Markets Emerging for Renewable-Energy Development on Tribal Lands
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has estimated that Indian lands contain substantial generating capacity for renewable-energy (RE) resources, with more than 23,000 million megawatt-hours of generation capacity from solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and small/low-power hydro technologies.
As coal plants face costly new regulations and an unpredictable future, tribes are looking to diversify power-supply resources and create jobs and a sustainable revenue source to benefit local communities. Many tribes are actively pursuing ownership and development of utility-scale RE projects on their lands. In recent years, they have worked with Congress to clear federal regulatory hurdles. Securing sites and project financing can now be streamlined. Tribes have been successfully partnering with RE developers or developing projects on their own. Their investments not only expand access to electricity; they could even lead the way in making clean energy available on a larger commercial scale throughout the United States.
Navajo Wind Farms and Solar Projects
On the Navajo Nation, where 40 percent of households remain without electricity, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority has a deal in place with the Salt River Project—one of Arizona’s largest utilities—to buy energy from the tribe’s wind farm at Big Boquillas Ranch near Seligman, Ariz. The wind farm is projected to generate 200 megawatts (MW) in its second phase. According to the Navajo Times, the project is the first of its kind to be majority-owned by any tribe or tribal enterprise. The Navajos are also planning large-scale wind farms on Gray Mountain and Black Mesa and are developing commercial solar projects sited close to existing transmission corridors and the Navajo Transmission Project, a large transmission line that will stretch 470 miles, from New Mexico to Nevada.
Jémez Pueblo Renewable Energy Initiatives Impact Internal NNSA Procurement Procedures
Geothermal resources at the Pueblo of Jémez are continuing to be evaluated. The pueblo recently won a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior to conduct a full suite of tests on its recently completed 5,657-foot geothermal exploration well.
A long-planned, four-megawatt (MW) solar project has been discontinued because the pueblo was unable to secure a power purchase agreement (PPA) with any of the three potential customers: PNM, Jémez Mountains Electrical Cooperative, and the Los Alamos County Utilities/Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) power purchasing pool.
There was one significant accomplishment from the overall effort, however, reports Greg Kaufman, Jémez Pueblo’s Natural Resources Department director. In attempting to sell the solar power to the Los Alamos County/LANL pool, it became clear that there were some inefficiencies in how the government procures renewable energy (RE), particularly from tribes. Kaufman and Pueblo of Jémez Gov. Joshua Madalena made a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the agency within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) responsible for LANL operations, to convince it to change internal procurement procedures, so tribally generated RE could compete for federal power contracts on a level playing field with fossil-derived energy and the government-owned hydropower plants. This effort resulted in a directive from former DOE Secretary Chu and the DOE formally changing its procedures to create a purchasing preference for tribally generated renewable power. Jémez Pueblo has not yet benefited from the change, but all tribes seeking to sell RE to the DOE can use this preference.
Jicarilla Apaches’ New Electric Utility
The Jicarilla Apache Nation has taken control of the electrical needs of its tribal lands. The tribe spent nearly $6 million to acquire about half of the Northern Río Arriba Electric Cooperative, which had been providing the tribe with electricity. On May 9, the tribe established a new utility, the Jicarilla Apache Nation Power Authority (JANPA), which required formalizing an agreement with Public Service Company of New Mexico to supply the electricity. A new 115 kV transmission line, switchyard and substations have been built. The new tribal power authority serves about 1,300 customers within the Apache Nation’s boundaries, as well as some families near the reservation. Tribal members now pay their electric bills to the tribe.
JANPA has installed a photovoltaic (PV) demonstration project at its offices in Dulce, New Mexico. The Authority is collecting data on the system’s performance over a three-year period and conducting a PV information-dissemination program. The project is being linked with an innovative outreach effort aimed at Jicarilla members and other New Mexico tribes and pueblos to help them better understand the energy use that occurs on their respective reservations—and its attendant environmental impacts—and to better understand how even simple buildings can be designed to utilize renewable resources and energy-efficient technologies.
Pueblo of Laguna’s Off-Grid Renewable Energy Project
The Pueblo of Laguna’s renewable energy program is establishing the Majors Ranch, a Laguna-owned operation, as a self-contained community with its own source of electrical power, utilizing its solar and wind resources. The facility, located 10 miles off the closest utility grid, is currently used for a youth program and retreat. Under this project, the pueblo will design, install, operate and maintain a wind turbine, two photovoltaic (PV) arrays, two PV-powered water pumps and two active solar water-heater systems. The systems are designed to meet the electrical and hot-water loads of the buildings.