The past year saw a large commitment from the Department of Energy to support clean energy, with at least $9 million in grants given to 16 different tribal projects. Combined with cost-sharing matches raised by the award recipients, a minimum of nearly $25 million was used toward clean energy in Indian country. Solar energy made up a large portion of the grantees.
While president-elect Donald Trump picks cabinet members who are well-known proponents of coal and fossil fuels consumption, these policies are not yet in place. In the meantime, tribes and their private sector partners continue to look toward renewable energy and the government request for proposals that are still in place for this upcoming fiscal year.
According to David Conrad (Osage), the deputy director of the DOE Office of Indian Energy and Programs, grant proposals for renewable energy are still possible.
“Funding for any projects in 2017 is subject to Congressional appropriations,” he said in a statement to ICMN. “Any solar projects and/or tribes participating will be based on the receipt, review, and selection under the deployment FOA (Funding Opportunity Announcement) which closes February 7, 2017.”
One of the solar energy companies that has partnered with tribes this year is the Oakland, California-based GRID Alternatives. Through their tribal office in Denver, Colorado, the company has worked with 30 Plains and California-based tribes to provide solar energy to 488 tribal homes since 2010. One hundred of the residential units were finished this year. In addition to solar energy-related construction, the company also provides workforce training for tribal sustainability. “Our tribal partners are looking to stand their projects into the years to come,” said Tim Willink, a member of the Navajo Nation and GRID’s tribal program director.
Julian Foley, the director of communications for GRID Alternatives, said that the company will continue to work with tribes in applying for the announced DOE grants.
“We haven’t heard anything, and we continue to apply for the DOE grants that are posted and available,” Foley said. “We’ve gotten a fair amount of grants—through the tribes—from the Department of Energy. Most of our work is funded from the federal government. If the Department of Energy grants would stop being available, that would obviously have significant impact for us. That’s a great source of funding. We haven’t heard anything one way or another.”
One of the tribes that has partnered with GRID Alternatives is the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Their particular project installed solar energy in 10 homes, with an estimated 40 percent in electrical cost savings. Ken Haukaas, Rosebud’s tribal utility commissioner, said that area energy providers’ costs since 2009 have elevated by at least six percent, warranting a need for alternative energy development.
Haukaas said that in 2012, a winter storm left one of the communities on Rosebud without power for at least two weeks. “How do we help these people that are out in the middle of nowhere?” Haukaas asked. For him, solar energy combined with a ground-source heat pump is a viable solution for these areas. His future plans with solar energy include writing a grant for a solar panel field that would power an 80-home tribal housing community on the Rosebud Reservation.
A recent report from the Solar Energy Industries Association states that solar energy accounted for 39 percent of all new electric generating capacities in the U.S. between the first and third quarters of 2016, second only to natural gas. The report also stated that solar installations were up 191 percent over the third-quarter in 2015.