By Mark Wolf
Participants in the National Tribal Energy Summit in Washington, D.C., on Friday heard a range of recommendations for action spanning a variety of topics arising from Summit sessions.
The Summit was hosted in Washington D.C. by NCSL with the sponsorship of the Department of Energy and in cooperation with the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. The recommendations are presented as summaries unless direct quotes are indicated.
Policy and Programs
Jana Ganion, energy director, Blue Lake Rancheria tribe
We recommend the loan guarantee program for tribal energy development go forth with $100 million. We want to make sure grant eligibility criteria includes Alaskan native communities and we look closely to ensure that eligibility criteria fits tribal structure. The goal of capacity building at the tribal level is to develop internal capacity among every tribal government for developing its own energy resources.
We support the extension of tax credits and want them to be usable to tribes, for tribes to have the ability to own them and assign them. We also need exploration of grants in lieu of tax credits so tribes have more access to direct renewable energy. A universal services fund needs to be reassessed and explored for potential uses for native communities in Alaska.
We recommend that the Office of Indian Energy in the Department of Energy be a high priority. The IEO supports efforts at every single tribe and current legislation is set to expire end of 2016. We need to ask for an expanded budget.
Arctic energy and policy effort: "We know it’s going to be a hot topic (no pun intended) and it is only going to get more and more intense there. We need a holistic approach to make sure our efforts are effective. We encourage all tribes with climate action plans to really make some noise, provide input so we can move climate action networks forward."
Science and Technology
Senator John McCoy (D-Wash.)
We need to transition to the clean energy economy and to make it sustainable. We need to educate our young, reaching down as far as middle school so they understand what they’re getting into.
We are suggesting that not only should young people get their two-year technical degrees, they need to go on and get four-year degrees. We need to collaborate with local universities to get integrated into those technology programs.
On the financial side, some tribes think they know how return on investment (ROI) works but if you quiz them, they don’t really. One thing that has infected tribes is that if they don’t get their ROI in three years, they don’t want to hear about it. That’s not realistic. Some projects take longer. Some will take three, seven,10 years.
There is a lot of conversation around microgrids (electrical grids that can be removed from traditional grids and serve small areas). It's not a new technology but it is new in how it’s getting deployed.
"In the area of tech transfer we need to encourage innovation, pilot projects among tribes, private industry and government. We heard from Alaska about needing better building codes for energy efficiency. We need different types of building materials. One of the products brought up is cross lamination of wood that’s coming on line. It's a great building material—almost as strong as steel and flexible enough to withstand earthquakes. I personally think HUD is stuck in the 1940s and we need to bring them up to the 21st century. Need to get them to rethink what they allow and don’t allow."
Economy and regulation
Will Micklin, first vice president, Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes
Special consideration is needed for the uniqueness of Alaska communities for programs, services and funds that are delivered. All of these communities are unique, but overall Alaska is unique in dealing with climate change and on the forefront of those issues dealing with weatherization and stranded remote rural communities.
Improvement of access to capital for tribes: Between 1987 and 2010, of the total number of tax exempt bonds let by state and local governments, tribes were one-tenth of 1 percent of the total dollars authorized. That’s indicative that bond authority for tribes, the lifeblood of governments, is constrained. The essential government function test—the IRS' interpretation of government test—is a great restraint. Some flexibility needs to be applied.
"There should be a working group empaneled to explore the possibilities of interaction with private industry, government and tribal resources. That would be a significant and tremendous help with getting the funds to tribal projects where they’re needed and in the amount they are needed with the least cost.
"Capacity building is extremely important. The idea from ICEIWG (Indian Country Energy and Infrastructure Working Group) is to develop a capacity building program similar to the EPA's general assistance program. It’s intended to develop a resource on tribal staff that would provide expertise, where there could be an evaluation of what’s practical, what’s bankable and what can actually be implemented. You have to have a champion on staff. In grant funding, we'd like to see the secretary of energy use his discretion to waive as much tribal contribution as possible."
Jobs and workforce
Sandra Begay-Campbell, principal member, Technical Staff, Sandia National Laboratories
We are looking at where there may be peer-to-peer exchanges and the variety of partners these exchanges have utilized.
"We need a national effort to look at STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education from an American Indian perspective, to be part of that national dialogue and not have our students be lost in the shuffle of other underrepresented minorities."