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The Department of Energy announced more than $400 million in funding for renewable energy projects on tribal and rural lands today, including a massive investment that will fund solar, battery storage and hydroelectric projects across 20 states, along with two new funding opportunities for tribes. 

The DOE will funnel $366 million into 17 projects across the country under the Energy Improvement in Rural or Remote Areas Program (ERA). Of those 17 projects, 12 are located on tribal lands. 

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In addition to the ERA, the DOE also announced two new funding opportunities. Tribes are eligible to participate in a $25 million grant funding round through the Clean Energy Technology Deployment on Tribal Lands program, which will support renewable energy projects such as energy generation, storage, and electrifying tribal buildings. 

Tribes are also eligible for the $18 million Communities Sparking Investments in Transformative Energy, or C-SITE, funding opportunity, though this opportunity is also open to municipalities. The C-SITE program seeks to support renewable energy infrastructure as well, such as storage, microgrids, and retrofitting city infrastructure with energy efficient upgrades, according to an announcement

These announcements arrive ahead of the Tribal Clean Energy Summit being held this week in Temecula, California, at the Pechanga Resort Casino. More than 700 tribal leaders are expected to attend the conference, according to a DOE statement.

“President [Joe] Biden believes Americans in every pocket of the country can reap the benefits of clean energy,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said during a Monday morning press call previewing the announcement. “These projects are replicable and scalable. This is the promise the president sees in clean energy.” 

Notably, the announced ERA projects have been selected for award negotiations. For-profit companies involved must post a 50 percent cost share, while tribes and nonprofits received a 20 percent waiver on their cost share, according to a DOE representative speaking on background.

Selected projects will be asked to develop and ultimately implement a comprehensive plan for community benefits brought on by potential renewable energy infrastructure promised by each project. 

Altogether, if these negotiations are successful, the projects should touch 20 states and 30 tribal communities. Selected projects run the gamut from electrifying 300 homes on the Navajo and Hopi reservations through solar panels to using a solar buildout on the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico to reduce energy costs for residents in the service area by $700 per year. 

Improved access could be a gamechanger for rural communities facing skyrocketing energy costs and withering economic opportunities, Office of Indian Energy Director and Navajo (Diné) tribal member Wahleah Johns. The DOE announcement noted that tribal communities often face an “energy burden,” or percentage of monthly income dedicated to energy costs, that is three to four times higher than other households. 

“These projects are really significant in helping to provide more energy security for rural and remote communities. They are encouraging the energy sovereignty that tribes hold and making sure that lights are on for families that are in different places in Indian Country,” Johns said during the press call. “I'm really excited about this announcement and the impact it's going to have in communities that are trying to sustain a living on their homelands.”

In particular, the Clean Energy Technology Deployment on Tribal Lands represents continued acceleration at the Office of Indian Energy, which as a whole distributed $120 million between 2010 and 2023 to Native communities hoping to build energy infrastructure. That number swelled to $75 million in 2023 and is at $25 million in 2024 so far. 

More information on the new funding opportunities can be found at the Office of Indian Energy Funding Opportunity Exchange. The Clean Energy Technology Deployment on Tribal Lands funding opportunity will have an informational webinar held Mar. 14 from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. CST. 

“What we're seeing across the country is a broad-based and massive expansion of clean energy production and growth in the economic opportunity that comes from that thanks to the catalytic effect of the president's investing in America agenda,” National Climate Advisor and vice-chair of the National Climate Task Force Ali Zaidi said during Monday’s press call. “This is a gamechanger on the ground for communities that can now see a visible difference — the light coming on, the electricity being plugged into the grid, folks putting on hard hats. That is the president's clean energy agenda in action.”

About The Author
Chez Oxendine
Staff Writer
Chez Oxendine (Lumbee-Cheraw) is a staff writer for Tribal Business News. Based in Oklahoma, he focuses on broadband, Indigenous entrepreneurs, and federal policy. His journalism has been featured in Native News Online, Fort Gibson Times, Muskogee Phoenix, Baconian Magazine, and Oklahoma Magazine, among others.
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