Tribes Increasingly Looking to Renewables for Energy Independence

Many tribal communities are working to develop renewables on tribal lands because it will save them money, provide good-paying jobs, and also fight the climate crisis.  For example, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, tribal member Henry Red Cloud is working out a plan to help Native and indigenous communities around the world make their own electricity, the Irish Times reports.  His start-up, Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, manufactures solar products and works with 37 other federally-recognized tribes on residential clean energy and solar power.“ Red Cloud told Yale’s Climate Connections, “Native people’s way of life – language, song, dance, ceremonies – are all focused around the sun. So we’re looking to that energy to help us to create a more sustainable lifestyle.”

Why This Matters:  Native American tribes are infrastructure poor and have struggled with affordable electricity on reservations that are often isolated — far from the grid. They are also keenly aware of the need to take climate action and shed reliance on fossil fuels like coal.  As “Cody Two Bears of the Standing Rock reservation told Rolling Stone, ‘Now the world is falling Native people have to use our ancient wisdom to show this country how to live sustainably. And what better way to do that than with renewable energy?’”

Forgetting Coal

Last March, we reported on how the Navajo Tribe closed the Navajo Generating Station coal-fired power plant that for 40 years provided power to the City of Los Angeles.  But now the city and the tribe are working together to turn the former coal plant into a renewable energy hub to provide wind, solar, and hydropower to the City according to Earther. The Navajo tribe would like to build on the Los Angeles energy partnership to strike agreements to supply clean energy to cities in other neighboring states such as New Mexico and Nevada — they are already in discussions with Nevada officials to reach deals that would provide cash to help with the development of the renewable power.  “We want to be able to sell electricity and get that revenue back so we can help our own people get electricity because a lot of our people don’t have electricity,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez told Earther.

Similarly, Earth Island Journal reported on the Northern Cheyenne’s homeland in Southeastern Montana that sit above the richest seam of low-sulfur coal remaining in the country, which is reportedly worth billions.  But the tribe has repeatedly rejected offers from mineral companies to mine the coal.  In 2016, the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council adopted a series of resolutions swearing off fossil fuels and endorsing green energy and now they are developing solar on the reservation.  In partnership with the Covenant Solar program, they are establishing a Native-employee-owned solar cooperative that allows the tribe and its members to reap 100 percent of the benefits of solar.

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