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Energy revenue shortfall is in billions

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NEW ORLEANS ? Native America is missing out on as much as $27 billion in energy revenue a year.

That's what one American Indian energy executive told a session of the RES2002 economic summit here recently. The meeting was sponsored by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development of Mesa, Ariz.

William D. McCabe, vice president of Denver-based ThermoEnergy Corp., said American Indians control 10 percent of the country's energy reserves. But McCabe, a Navajo, said they realize just $700 million per year from their resources, a far cry from their fair share of a total U.S. market of $280 billion annually.

But ten percent of $280 billion, he told the meeting, is $28 billion, making the Indian country share over $27 billion less than could be realized. McCabe said that with 30 percent of the countrys coal, ten percent of its natural gas, four to five percent of its oil and 40 percent of its uranium, "Indian country ought to be like Saudi Arabia."

In comparison to the potential for tribal revenue in energy resources, gaming is only "a game of jacks," he said.

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In addition, studies have shown the Laguna and Acoma pueblos in New Mexico to be optimum places to develop solar energy, he said, and the Dakotas to be one of the world's three best places in the world to harvest wind. (The other two are Holland, famous for windmills, and the Bering Islands near Alaska.) Especially well situated for wind farms in the Dakotas are the Sisseton-Wahpeton reservation, as well as Standing Rock and Rosebud. [See related story.]

Tribes also have an inherent advantage when it comes to energy, he said. They already hold the resource and do not have to acquire rights or land to harvest it. Energy is also "a long-term game," McCabe said, and tribes aren't going anywhere, another advantage. McCabe is a former director of energy programs for the Council of Energy Resource Tribes (CERT), based in Denver.

One tribe in the process of developing wind energy is the Iowa tribe of Oklahoma, which has gotten a grant to test the wind in its central Oklahoma homelands. The tribe is working on a hybrid distributive generation system of wind and gas to provide energy for its tribal headquarters.

Michelle Garcia, a tribal member who is its former director of development, told the RES2002 session the tribe has put up a wind tower to test prospects, with positive results so far. The Iowas, with about 500 members and 660 acres of land, are the first tribe in Oklahoma to test the wind.

The project is "hybrid" because it envisions using gasoline or diesel fuel in addition to wind energy to power up the tribal complex. The tribe would like to cut its current 24-cents-per-kilowatt cost, she said (the average user pays just eight cents per kilowatt) and would like to become energy self-sufficient by 2010.

Garcia, currently the American Indian liaison for Southern California Edison, said the tribe already is a gas marketer. And it is assessing its oil and mineral resources as well.