Tribal lands make up 5% of the United States and hold 10% of the country's renewable energy resources, says The New Energy Future in Indian Country: Confronting Climate Change, Creating Jobs, and Conserving Nature. The report says solar energy on tribal lands could generate 4.5 times the country’s total energy consumption of 17.6 TWh.

“Indian Tribes are disproportionately bearing the brunt of climate change, and their economic, cultural, and spiritual practices, which are closely tied to the natural world, are suffering,” it states. “But the vast potential on tribal lands to generate clean energy from renewable energy resources like solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal power presents tribes with the opportunity to be a significant part of the solution.”

“The infrastructure and revenue streams created by tribal renewable energy and energy efficiency projects could help tribes achieve economic growth and energy independence, and strengthen tribal sovereignty,” it adds. “These projects would help keep utility revenue within tribal communities and create worker training opportunities in clean energy jobs, such as installation, maintenance, weatherization and construction.”

The report was prepared with National Tribal Environmental Council, Native American Rights Fund, and Intertribal Council On Utility Policy. It provides an overview of the possibilities for renewable energy and details case studies of wind, solar, geothermal and biomass production.

Tribes control almost 100m acres of land

“With 95 million acres of land under their management and centuries of experience conserving the natural world, Indian tribes can play a significant role in protecting natural resources from climate change and coping with a warmer world,” explains Steve Torbit of the National Wildlife Federation.

“We developed this report to showcase the tremendous opportunities tribes have to implement renewable energy, energy efficiency, and participate in the green economy, while protecting their natural resource heritage.”

“Tribes rely heavily on federal funding, which is insufficient for the full development of renewable energy projects,” the report explains. “Tribes do not benefit from the renewable energy tax credits, accelerated depreciation allowances, and loan guarantees that make wind and other renewable energy projects financially attractive to investors.”

“States often assess taxes on non-Indian entities whose facilities are on fee land within Indian country, making it difficult, as a practical matter, for tribes to assess similar taxes, as double-taxation would drive investors away,” it adds. “Capacity considerations are vital; transmission lines often skirt Tribal lands, and the cost of extending transmission lines over long distances can be astronomical.”

Development of renewable energy would be a win-win

“With the country’s current push towards energy independence, interest in renewable energy development is high,” it concludes. “The infrastructure and revenue streams created by Tribally-owned renewable energy projects could help tribes achieve economic independence and strengthen community autonomy while helping to sustain natural resources for future generations.”

“All development comes at a cost, but careful planning can lessen damage to the environment,” it adds. “Planning for renewable energy projects must take into account potential impacts on the surrounding land, with special attention paid to the size and placement of utility sites. Projects and resultant development should be sited away from animal migration corridors, bodies of water, and sensitive habitats.”