Lack of resources and unclear regulatory oversight has slowed electrification on Native American Reservations, but some organizations believe the transition for renewable energy offers an opportunity to bring reliable, green, independent energy resources to reservations. Among these groups are Covenant Solar and Native Sun Community Power Development.
Both Native Sun and Covenant Solar aim to bring self-reliant renewable energy systems to Native American communities. Renewable energy projects on reservations often fail because there are no mechanisms in place to ensure the long-term sustainability of the system. This is why these two organizations focus on not only solar installation, but also workforce development and technical training to create new jobs and boost resiliency.
These groups work with communities across the US. On the Red Lake Reservation, Native Sun is working to install 17 megawatts of solar power, including five megawatts on tribal buildings and a 12-megawatt solar farm. On the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, Covenant Solar is installing a project that will provide three of Montana’s 17 megawatts of solar electricity. This energy helps power communities where traditional energy is either not available or not affordable. Native American households account for 75 percent of non-electrified homes in the US, and this isn’t surprising when you look at the fact that in Montana, for example, tribal lands face electricity prices two to three times the Montana average of 11.53 cents per kilowatt hour.
In addition to providing reliable energy, these solar development projects also help Native American communities take action on climate change, which often disproportionately affects their livelihoods. “We are disrupting the broken fossil fuel-based energy system,” Covenant Solar founder Cheri Smith tells Yes!. “This is economic development with really high human impact.”
Investment in renewable energy, particularly solar energy, holds immense economic empowerment potential for reservations. In the lower 48 states, tribal lands have an estimated 17,600 billion kilowatt hours per year of solar energy potential. That’s more than four times the US’ total electricity generation in 2020.
On top of providing reliable green energy and jobs, the money saved on energy expenses can also be reinvested into the community in more productive ways. “Our long-term goal is to return to self-determination and restoration of hope,” says Smith.