David Conrad, Osage Nation, has been working on tribal energy projects since he was in grad school at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay in 1991. “My advisor suggested I apply for a summer internship with CERT [Council for Energy Resource Tribes]. Then they invited me back when I was finishing my coursework. They actually had a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy at the time, and they placed me as a year-long intern from CERT here at DOE headquarters back in 1992.”
He’s been involved with tribal energy issues ever since, including a stint with the City of Seattle where he worked on energy matters such as hydropower dam issues vis a vis tribes.
In 2010 Conrad took on the director’s position for Tribal and Intergovernmental Affairs in the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs at DOE.
“Tribal elected officials who want to reach out to any of the principal DOE leadership can contact me and I’ll make sure they get in contact and then follow up with any of the items between their government and the DOE program staff assigned to answer their questions,” he says.
Conrad describes his office’s mission. “Primarily we try to focus on clean energy projects in Indian country through our office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, where we offer trainings, webinars and technical assistance.
“There’s a particular program called the Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team, or START, that takes an inter-agency, inter-disciplinary approach to tribal energy projects that seem to be struggling. The tribes can apply for this assistance, a team will go out and assess where the project’s potential issues are and then make some recommendations to help get them over the hump and onwards toward success.”
The office has a whole series of webinars throughout the year to help tribal officials. In the past, the webinars have included Resources Available for Tribal Renewable Energy Development, Renewable and Energy Efficiency Market Update, Strategic Energy Planning, Renewable Energy Project Development Finance Framework: The Five-Step Process, Net Metering and Putting It All Together from technology, financing, siting and operations. Similar webinars for next year are on the schedule, which is available here.
DOE also has funding available for tribal energy projects. Conrad says, “Usually in the spring, there are funding opportunity announcements that come out. Last year we had about $7 million worth of grants, so it’s highly competitive. This year for the first time we’ve stopped doing feasibility study grants because BIA funds a lot of those. So this year we have a focus on using grant dollars to implement projects. Tribes could build all their solar panels with these kinds of dollars, for example.”
The most important thing Conrad wants tribal leaders to know is that “DOE is here and there’s a wide array of scientific and technical expertise that’s available to them. DOE isn’t always on the forefronts of people’s minds when they look at funds that come from federal agencies to tribes, such as BIA, Transportation, EPA, IHS or HHS. Those are all the top tier federal agencies with funding going to tribes, but DOE has a lot to offer and it’s not just in funding. The scientific technical expertise at DOE can teach them a lot more about energy than just funding a specific project.”
More information on Conrad and the DOE work can be found here.
This is the third in a series of articles introducing federal officials with portfolios in Indian country.