By Mark Wolf
Energy is more than heat, light and electricity. It means opportunity, self-determination and self-sufficiency, Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes told the closing session of the National Tribal Energy Summit sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Indian Energy, in coordination with NCSL.
"We Intend to solicit applications from Indian tribes to deploy integrated energy generating systems, energy infrastructure, energy storage and energy efficiency measures throughout their tribal communities," he said. "We plan to make up to $15 million available, subject to congressional appropriation.
"From the beginning of this administration, across the entire department, we have awarded $566 million to American Indian and Alaska Native communities and tribally owned businesses. In Alaska alone, some 60 native villages have received funding from our Office of Indian Energy, including 35 that benefited from hardware installations. Altogether we have seen the installation of more than 32 megawatts of generation across tribal lands, which has led to a collective tribal saving of more than $14 million per year.
The initiative comes on the heels of a 2018 announcement of $16 million in funding for 14 tribal energy infrastructure projects. The administration, Menezes said, is committed to an all-of-the-above energy strategy.
"Combined, these projects mean more than 13 megawatts of new generation that will impact over 900 tribal buildings with annual savings of more than $7.5 million for those communities," he said.
Tribes' challenges in accessing funding for large infrastructure projects was the impetus for establishing 2018's Tribal Energy Loan Guarantee Program.
"Our department can guarantee up to $2 billion in loans to support all-of-the-above energy programs and activities. We’re filling a gap between tribes and commercial lenders and expanding energy access for tribal communities. Our mission is not to be the final lender of choice but to enable commercial lenders to better understand the unique needs of projects that benefit tribes," he said.
"We continue to remain actively engaged with tribes who could be eligible for this program and are eager to learn about other energy projects tribes might be considering."
STEM education in tribal communities is a DOE priority, Menezes added.
"We understand the necessity to develop a workforce to address the needs of tribal communities," he said. "We are working in partnership with tribal communities and our tribal working groups to create culturally relevant activities to engage tribal youth in STEM."
That includes encouraging more women in STEM, "since only about a quarter of those involved in STEM careers are women. We absolutely have to develop all of our potential talents."
Menezes encouraged tribes to "write your own energy destiny."
"The fact of the matter is we in Washington do not have the wisdom you all have on the ground. There are 573 federally recognized tribes which means any federal government approach to impose a one-size-fits-all on you is not the way to proceed."
Mark Wolf is editor of the NCSL Blog.