A Native American approach to energy independence


a picture of snow capped mountains behind a lake, the wallowas

By Simone Auger, LC

Evergreen Consulting Group first published this article on March 13, 2018.

As a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde helping Native American tribes around the region save energy, I have a unique understanding of how energy independence ties into tribal sovereignty and self-determination. By reducing and stabilizing energy costs, tribal governance and business operations are able to redirect capital and diversify investment holdings. I’m excited to see how Oregon’s tribal leaders are looking for ways to remove barriers to achieve their energy efficiency goals.

In November, I attended the US Department of Energy (DOE’s) Office of Indian Energy 2017 Program Review in Denver. I heard success stories from Native American tribes throughout the U.S. who are utilizing DOE and other program funding and support to pursue renewable energy development, energy efficiency projects and trades training programs. It was particularly interesting to hear the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, located in Oregon, discuss their steps towards energy independence and resiliency, citing LED lighting and solar projects that leveraged funding from the Office of Indian Energy and Energy Trust of Oregon. I also had the opportunity to network and talk with leadership and program staff from DOE and several other federal agencies, as well as program management contractors who serve Tribal Nations.

Many tribes are developing energy management master plans that emphasize good stewardship of resources. They are looking to streamline operational expenses, improve return on investment and increase self-sufficiency through renewable energy development combined with energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency investments provide increased opportunities for jobs and other economic benefits as tribes establish ordinances for employment and contract preference with Native-owned businesses. Workforce development programs provide training and education services to support career development. These programs also coordinate with organizations outside of the Tribe to provide a variety of career training opportunities. Program participants and independent contractors may find benefit in utilizing training and technical support offerings within an established trade ally network, further augmenting career advancement training and business development opportunities.

It’s encouraging to see tribes navigate the many knowledge-based and financial resources available to them. Oregon utilities and energy efficiency organizations are helping tribal decision-makers by functioning as technical advisors, scouting resources and helping with the “nuts and bolts” of the project process. By working together with their local utilities, tribes are finding ways to maximize energy savings and achieve other benefits that make an impact on their communities.

If you are interested in learning how Native American communities can take advantage of energy efficiency programs, please email me.

Simone Auger, LC, Evergreen Consulting Group