Tribes Hope to Model Southern Utes' Successful Energy Development


Tribes are transitioning from serving as passive providers of land to developing energy, selling it and transmitting it, Tracey LeBeau (Cheyenne River Sioux), director for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, told The Durango Herald.

And many tribes are looking to emulate the success of the Southern Utes' resource management, which has generated significant economic benefits for the tribe and surrounding community. Less than a century ago, the tribe had no official infrastructure and struggled to earn a meager income.

Today, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe is the largest employer in La Plata County, Colorado, and supports many area non-profit organizations. "Conventional energy," or oil and natural gas development, account for 93 percent of the tribe's profits, Bob Zahradnik, director of the tribe's business arm the Growth Fund, told The Durango Herald.

In early March, the Southern Utes also became the first tribe authorized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to run its own Clean Air Act program, reported The Daily Times of Farmington, New Mexico. After a decade-long effort to obtain approval, the tribe now manages the reservation's air quality, issuing permits and performing air emission inspections.

A component company of the Growth Fund, Southern Ute Alternative Energy, LLC, also invests the tribe's money in clean energy opportunities, among them: solar, wind, carbon capture, and biomass and biofuels such as algae.

Several southwestern tribal officials told The Durango Herald they were interested in developing energy sources on their land, but are more focused on renewable energy. “Renewable-energy development is more consistent with tribes’ reverence for nature and Earth,” Carolyn Stewart, managing partner of Red Mountain Partners, a consulting firm that works with tribes on renewable-energy projects, told the newspaper.

The Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay Indians in Alpine, California, and the Pueblo of Jemez in New Mexico are two tribes hoping energy development can repair their dire financial situations.

The former is pursuing a wind development deal with Iberdrola Renewables to power their reservation and nearly 100,000 homes in San Diego. The project could help fund desperately needed infrastructure on the reservation, such as “roads, telephone service, the ability to operate businesses,” Will Micklin, the tribe’s chief executive officer, told The Durango Herald.

The Pueblo of Jemez in Sandoval County, New Mexico, hope a planned $5 million geothermal project, which could power parts of New Mexico and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, will create jobs and help the tribe care for its valley. The tribe is also considering a small commercial solar development on the reservation to fund sewer system improvements, Greg Kaufman, director of the pueblo’s department of resource protection, told the newspaper.

Read the full story here.