Yesterday, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed a Record of Decision approving the lease and associated right of way for a 350-megawatt utility-scale solar energy project on the Moapa River Indian Reservation. This is the first-ever, utility-scale solar project in Indian Country, and joins the 50-megawatt wind farm on the Campo Reservation as the only utility-scale developments on tribal lands.
The solar project builds on President Obama’s strong record of supporting rural economies through the White House Rural Council. Established one year ago, the Rural Council has focused on maximizing the impact of Federal investment to promote economic prosperity and improve the quality of life in rural communities, including on tribal lands.
The project is also a part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above approach to energy and builds on the Administration’s broader efforts to advance renewable energy on America’s public lands. Since 2009, the Department of the Interior has approved 31 onshore renewable energy projects, including: 17 solar projects, 6 wind farms, and 8 geothermal plants. These projects include the first solar projects ever permitted on public lands. When built, these projects together can power nearly 2.5 million homes.
This landmark project is one of the many ways the Administration has sought to strengthen tribal economies through the development of renewable energy resources. The Interior Department has promoted this commitment by establishing a priority project list comprised of renewable energy projects on public lands. The Moapa project is a great beginning, and it is our hope that as Interior prioritizes renewable energy projects for 2013 and beyond, Tribes’ interests and developers interests in building renewable energy projects on tribal lands continues to grow.
In early 2011 the Moapa Band of Paiutes came to the Interior Department with their development partner, K Road Power, to discuss their plans and after initial discussions, BIA recommended that the project be included on the Department’s Priority Project list. Since that initial meeting the project has exemplified what can be achieved when the Federal government, Indian tribes, and private partners work together in pursuit of a common goal. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), through its Western Regional Office, served as the lead agency on the project. Due to its status as the first major solar energy development in Indian Country, the project quickly caught the attention of Secretary Salazar, who often inquired about its progress. Officials within Secretary Salazar’s office and the office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs participated in weekly calls discussing the project and attended a number of site visits and meetings with the Tribe and K Road. This heightened coordination between the BIA and its federal partners allowed the Department to complete its review within 14 months.
Construction is set to begin in the early fall, and the Moapa Band of Paiutes is already progressing on to their next solar project. The Administration is excited about further renewable energy development in Indian Country and is taking action to help duplicate the success of the K Road Moapa Project by providing tribes the tools they need to address the challenges directly. We have been working on new regulations to streamline the process of leasing tribal lands, which will return greater control over land use decisions to tribes and individual landowners, and promote housing and economic development throughout Indian Country. Within the DOI, the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development (IEED) awards Energy and Mineral Development Program (EMDP) funding to tribes to help evaluate their energy resource potential.
Collaborating with the Department of Energy's Office of Indian Energy on this project and other projects, interagency efforts are underway to compliment and coordinate tribal energy development. The Department of Energy has been also providing technical assistance to the Moapa Band related to distributed hybrid and renewable energy options for their community and facilities.
This same week, the Department of Energy announced Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team (START) program selections for lower 48 Tribes. The START program is providing tribal communities and Alaska native villages with technical assistance to accelerate clean energy project development, advance energy self-sufficiency, and create jobs. START teams are comprised of experts from DOE and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory. START just recently selected 11 Tribes—five in Alaska and six in the contiguous United States—to receive on-the-ground technical support for community-based energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
The Energy Department also recently launched a tribal energy development resources library providing links to more than 85 vetted publications, websites, and other helpful resources on energy project development and financing in Indian Country. This library can be accessed online at here.
Finally, Energy Department this week announced the appointment of 3 additional tribal members for the DOE Indian Country Energy and Infrastructure Working Group. Established in 2011, this Working Group is comprised of appointed tribal energy leaders from across the Nation to discuss the most pressing issues facing tribal energy development. Working Group members have led the way in strategic interactions with key energy sector players to share best practices and discuss emerging markets and opportunities for innovative public-private partnerships." President Obama is committed to strengthening tribal communities. This Administration will continue to provide tribes with the tools and resources they need to foster energy self-sufficiency, create jobs, and build a sustainable, prosperous future.
For more information on the K Road Moapa Project, click here.
Jodi Gillette is Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs, White House Domestic Policy Council
Del Laverdure is Acting Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs
Tracey A. LeBeau is Director for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs