Solar Power On Tribal Lands

In a recent issue of Solar Today, Karen Petersen or the National Renewable Energy Lab describes a variety of renewable and solar energy projects underway on tribal lands in the US.

These projects are “a new path that honors traditional ways, while addressing longstanding challenges and barriers.” The low carbon, sustainable energy offers economic opportunities to the tribes, without destroying or losing nature.

These projects offer electricity for isolated villages, independence from utilities, as well as jobs and potential income.

NREL estimates that “Despite representing less than 2% of the total U.S. land base, Indian lands contain an estimated 5% of all U.S. renewable energy generation potential,” This is one area where Indians and Alaskan Natives are not necessarily impoverished, if the resources can be used.

Petersen’s article is largely about the financial and legal issues in these developments—the technology is available, but tribes have to work out how they want to use it.

In general, the tribes need to raise capital and work with technical partners in ways that don’t jeopardize sovereignty and sustain the interests of their communities. With a history of bad dealings going back centuries, these arrangements may be more difficult that the actual project work.

Reading Petersen’s account, it is clear to me that there is no single, one-size-fits-all approach. The good news is that there seems to be more than one way that can work, and tribes are finding their own paths.

  1. Petersen, Karen, “A New Path to Prosperity in Indian Country: Exploring Opportunities for Clean Energy Development on Tribal Lands”, Solar Today, 2016, American Solar Energy Association: pp. 10-16.


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