Tribal Energy Webinar Series returns with focus on partnerships

WAPA is pleased to once again sponsor the Tribal Energy Webinar Series with the Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs (IE). The series begins Feb. 22 at 11 a.m. MT with Indian Energy: Looking Back and Moving Forward.

“Expanding Tribal Energy Development through Partnerships” is the theme for the 2017 series of 11 webinars. Tribal leaders and staff, as well as anyone interested in working in Indian Country, can participate in the free events. The series supports fiscally responsible energy business and economic development decision-making and promotes information exchange with the 565 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native sovereign nations, bands, villages and communities.

As national concerns about energy sufficiency and security have risen, American Indians and Alaska Natives have recognized the potential economic and self-determination benefits of energy resource development on their lands. Tribal lands consist of more than 56 million acres, or 2.3 percent of all land throughout the U.S. An estimated 17.1 million acres hold existing and potential fossil energy and mineral resources and about 5 percent of the country’s technically feasible renewable energy resource potential. Tribes with minimal fossil energy, mineral resources or renewable energy potential could benefit from other energy options, such as energy efficiency, demand-side technologies and collaborative supply arrangements.

Comprehensive agenda
Now in its fifth year, the Tribal Energy Webinar Series continues to meet critically important educational needs for tribal communities. Attendees will discover tools and resources for developing and implementing tribal energy plans, programs and projects. Webinars will provide case histories and business strategies tribes can use to expand their energy options and develop sustainable local economies.

The webinars are scheduled February through December on the last Wednesday of the month at 11 a.m. MT. Topics include:

  • Feb. 22 – Indian Energy: Looking Back and Moving Forward You are leaving WAPA.gov. 
    The first webinar in the series provides an overview of Indian energy in the U.S. and the mission of the IE office. Speakers will cover past successes, future plans and how to add value and streamline government procedures for tribes interested in energy development and self-determination.
  • March 29 – Federal and State Policy Impacts to Tribal Energy Partnerships You are leaving WAPA.gov. 
    Developing energy resources through partnerships is complex and can affect both tribal and non-tribal communities. Learn about state and federal requirements that could impact energy projects on tribal lands depending on the type of project, location, size and other considerations.
  • April 26 – Spending Energy Dollars Wisely You are leaving WAPA.gov. 
    Presentations will explore strategies, tools and technical assistance opportunities to develop a deliberate approach to maximizing energy dollars. Tribal guest speakers will share their successes and lessons learned in pursuing, developing and implementing strategic approaches to wise energy investments.
  • May 31 – What Energy Project is Right for my Tribe? You are leaving WAPA.gov. 
    Learn how to identify appropriate energy projects, from a small renewable generator for a single residence or building to a utility-scale project requiring transmission interconnection and a purchase power agreement. The pros and cons of ownership and leasing, differences among various renewable and conventional technologies and potential project barriers will be covered.
  • June 28 – Tribal Project Partnerships You are leaving WAPA.gov. 
    Hear about successful partnerships and how the successes can be replicated throughout the U.S. This webinar will be of particular interest to tribal nations and energy industry professionals interested in expanding their energy resource options and increasing economic development and self-determination.
  • July 26 – Powering Your Community with Tribal Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. 
    Speakers will address the steps to developing a 1- to 2-megawatt energy project on tribally owned or controlled property to serve the energy needs of the tribal community.
  • Aug. 30 – University Resources for Tribal Partnerships You are leaving WAPA.gov. 
    Explore how relationships between universities and tribal nations can foster greater economic development, self-determination and energy independence for the tribes. Speakers will talk about successful university programs and initiatives on energy and the environment that are valuable resources to tribes.
  • Sept. 27 – Fundamentals of Organized Energy Markets for Tribes You are leaving WAPA.gov. 
    Find out how the expansion of establishments such as the Southwest Power Pool and the California Independent System Operator is will create opportunities for those looking for more energy resource options or to buy and sell energy resources, especially on tribal lands.
  • Oct. 25 – Tribes Working Together You are leaving WAPA.gov. 
    Generation and transmission and joint-action agencies offer business models for jointly owning, procuring and building new transmission and power generation projects Learn about these and other partnership opportunities that can support tribal energy independence and self-determination on tribal lands.
  • Nov. 29 – Partnerships for Utilities and Tribes Initiative You are leaving WAPA.gov. 
    This webinar introduces a new initiative to facilitate stronger and improved relationships between tribes and the utilities or energy companies that serve them. Another possible benefit of this effort is improved employment of tribal members in utility and energy sector jobs.

Register today
Be a part of expanding energy self-determination among our country’s American Indians and Alaska Natives by registering for any or all webinars. There is no charge to attend, but registration is required. Attendees must have internet access, computer compatibility with GoToWebinar software You are leaving WAPA.gov. (free download) and a phone line. Recordings of the 2016 webinar series and archived recordings  from past years are available to download.

DOE to sponsor energy forum at Native American business trade show

As part of its Silver-Level sponsorship of Reservation Economic Summit (RES) 2014Redirecting to a non-government site, the Energy Department (DOE) Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs will present an energy forum on March 17 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. 

RES, the nation’s largest gathering of Native American businesses, will take place at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nev., March 17 to 20. Respected tribal leaders, state and local elected officials and top business owners attend the event. Participants enjoy networking, collaboration opportunities, business development and training sessions, tribal procurement opportunities and much more.

The DOE forum will feature roundtable sessions on a host of issues relating to energy development, including:

  • Tribes and Utilities – Explore the complex relationship tribes have with local incumbent utilities, including how tribes and utilities have learned to cooperate as good neighbors, and what can be done to create future opportunities.
  • Energy Project Success in Indian Country – Discuss recent successful tribal and nontribal energy projects.
  • Game Changers: Energy Investment Strategies and New IRS Rulings – Get an overview of the economic and financial implications for tribes of renewable energy investment, the Investment Tax Credit and solar distributed generation and net-metering in Indian Country.
  • Indian Country and Energy: Now and Looking to the Future – Learn about the current state of Indian Country’s energy opportunity in terms of both resource development and project development.

View the full agenda for more details. Conference registration covers the cost to attend the forum. Register for RES 2014, and be sure to visit DOE at Booth 2105 while you’re there!

Lakota nonprofit plans sustainable community on Pine Ridge Reservation

Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation Redirecting to a non-government site (CDC) is inviting one of the poorest communities in the nation to try a very different approach to economic development, one that takes time, commitment, willingness to learn and above all, planning.

Students and tribe members are collaborating through the Native American Sustainable Housing Initiative to improve housing conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation and other tribal lands. (Photo by Thunder Valley Community Development Corp.)

Students and tribe members are collaborating through the Native American Sustainable Housing Initiative to improve housing conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation and other tribal lands. (Photo by Thunder Valley Community Development Corp.)

From the ground up
The grassroots nonprofit organization in Porcupine, S.D., recently released its ambitious plan to create a sustainable model community on a 34-acre parcel on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Building a Regenerative Community envisions more and better housing on the reservation, increased local business opportunities, a skilled workforce and a healthy, supportive environment for residents. Those goals are challenging enough for communities with a developed infrastructure and large population. But Pine Ridge doesn’t have either, admitted Thunder Valley Executive Director Nick Tilsen. “We are basically starting from scratch,” he said.

By “scratch,” Tilsen means that the Thunder Valley community must produce its own electricity, manage its own water supply and build roads to connect it with the rest of the reservation and beyond. Training local workers to build the community is part of the plan, too, since the nearest large labor pool is 100 miles away in Rapid City.

Having nowhere to go but up has some advantages. The CDC is free to embrace innovative development approaches that don’t rely on an abundance of resources. Proposed projects, such as a water treatment system that returns clean water to the aquifer, could make Thunder Valley the envy of more established cities.

Tilsen acknowledged that being the first adopter has its downside, though. “We are asking bureaucracies to do something they have never done before, and that creates a lot of interest,” he said. “But these agencies have built regulations around one way of doing things. It is going to take time to find a way around those barriers.”

Public weighs in
Although it lacks the tax base to build infrastructure, Pine Ridge Reservation has engaged citizens who want a better future for themselves and their families on tribal lands.

Tribe members participated in listening and visioning sessions, town hall-style meetings and stakeholder design charrettes to identify the goals and objectives for the Thunder Valley community. (Photo by Thunder Valley Community Development Corp.)

Tribe members participated in listening and visioning sessions, town hall-style meetings and stakeholder design charrettes to identify the goals and objectives for the Thunder Valley community. (Photo by Thunder Valley Community Development Corp.)

The project grew out of the yearly Thunder Valley Sundance, when organizers and participants found themselves discussing the many problems facing native youth. The idea of creating a local nonprofit organization to address social, economic and cultural issues took root. After community outreach to set priorities and gain residents’ buy-in, the Thunder Valley CDC formed and attained nonprofit status in 2007.

Community involvement continued over the next six years as tribe members attended a series of listening and visioning sessions, town hall-style meetings and stakeholder design charrettes Redirecting to a non-government site. The meetings produced the main objectives for a regenerative development that focused on creating a low-impact, self-sufficient community where people could live and work and continue their culture and traditions.

Partners, funding line up
A conceptual master plan, based on the main objectives, began attracting partners and funding to the Thunder Valley Regenerative Community. Oglala Lakota College Redirecting to a non-government site (OLC), University of Colorado (CU) School of Environmental Design Redirecting to a non-government site and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Redirecting to a non-government site entered into service learning partnerships with the CDC and the Oglala Sioux Housing Authority Redirecting to a non-government site. The partnership is exploring sustainable, affordable housing prototypes. “Thunder Valley is going to be a living laboratory,” noted Tilsen. “It offers academic institutions a clean slate for learning, research and study and evaluation.”

Several programs in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided the project with funding for planning, land purchases and construction. The CU School of Environmental Design also received a HUD grant to research sustainable housing models on Pine Ridge. The Environmental Protection Agency, Administration for Native Americans Redirecting to a non-government site and Department of Agriculture (USDA) also contributed funding to small projects within the overarching plan.

Last May, Thunder Valley CDC brought its partners together for a workshop aimed at integrating all the facets of the plan in a final report. Within the context of population, density, land use, building types and infrastructure; a roadmap emerged to provide affordable, efficient homes; produce all energy onsite; clean all wastewater onsite and create a vital, new Lakota-grown economy.

A place to live, work
The master plan includes office and industrial space, recreation and social service facilities, a market, food gardens, community gathering areas and water treatment facilities. Expanding workforce housing on the reservation, however, is top priority. “Between five and six thousand people work on the reservation, but only 2,500 to 3,000 people live here,” explained Tilsen. “We have no rental stock, so 51 percent of our workforce commutes from outside towns. People tend to spend their paychecks where they live, so wages generated on the reservation don’t stay here.”

Phase I of the project focuses on building 31 single-family homes, with the help of the future homeowners. This strategy makes the home more affordable for the owner who is able to contribute up to 60 percent of the labor. The “sweat equity” model also builds marketable skills locally—and something more. “Helping to build your own home is empowering,” observed Tilsen. “It will give homeowners a feeling of accomplishment and self-sufficiency, and knowledge they can share with their community.”

Efficiency first
Low energy use is central to both self-sufficiency and affordability. The Native American Sustainable Housing Initiative Redirecting to a non-government site (NASHI), a joint research project with CDC’s academic partners, seeks to determine what type of building technology will prove most efficient on the reservation.

Students from CU and OLC are building four houses: one with conventional framing, and one each using insulated panels, straw bale construction and compressed-earth blocks. Sensors will be placed throughout the homes to see which style is most efficient at least cost. The answers are not as clear as they might seem, added Tilsen. “Straw bale buildings may not need much energy to heat and cool, but local farmers don’t practice small baling, so the material has to be shipped in,” he said. “Sustainability isn’t just one thing. It’s a big picture.”

This recently completed straw bale house is part of a research project by NASHI to determine what type of construction technology best meets the needs of Pine Ridge residents and the goals of the Thunder Valley plan. (Photo by Thunder Valley Community Development Corp.)

This recently completed straw bale house is part of a research project by NASHI to determine what type of construction technology best meets the needs of Pine Ridge residents and the goals of the Thunder Valley plan. (Photo by Thunder Valley Community Development Corp.)

In the big picture, Thunder Valley is being planned as a net-zero energy community. The absence of a pre-existing infrastructure will actually make it easier to build in efficiency. Planners can site buildings for optimal solar panel angle and daylight harvesting, and install efficient systems like ground source heat pumps and gravity-fed, decentralized water treatment. Making thermal materials and insulative construction systems standard building practice will further reduce energy requirements.

Democratization of energy
The master plan relies primarily on rooftop solar arrays to meet most of the community’s energy needs. “But biomass and wind have good potential, too,” Tilsen added.

A large wind turbine on a hill near the community would supplement the solar generation. Small individual wind turbines installed on office buildings and solar panels in parking areas could meet increased electrical demand in the future. The CDC is exploring leasing roof space to the community and other possible financing models. “We believe that it is critical for the community’s economic development and stability to own and produce the energy we consume,” stated Tilsen.

A micro-grid system is planned to tie into the rural utility grid that now supplies electricity to the reservation. The Oglala Lakota tribe receives an allocation from Western through LaCreek Electric Association Redirecting to a non-government site, Black Hills Electric Cooperative Redirecting to a non-government site, Nebraska Public Power District Redirecting to a non-government site and West River Electric Association Redirecting to a non-government site. Remaining connected to the grid would provide Thunder Valley with backup power in case of an outage. The community would also be able to offset some costs by selling excess generation and greenhouse gas credits through the utilities.

Ups, downs ahead
At a time when developers toss up new neighborhoods in a matter of months—or weeks—Thunder Valley CDC expects to take years to complete the planned community.

Having completed the preliminary engineering study and environmental assessment the CDC is now working with USDA to create an application process for potential homeowners to apply to build their own homes in the development. Developing permitting documents for infrastructure and buildings, and establishing a property management company and a homeownership training program are all part of Phase I.

The tribe will also be applying for several grants related to rural and tribal infrastructure. Growing this partnership is especially important to the CDC because it will help spread the benefits and lessons of Thunder Valley beyond the development itself. “Not everyone on the reservation is going to want to live in the planned community,” explained Tilsen. “We have to find ways to use what we have learned to lift up the whole tribe.”

The goal, and the stakes, for Thunder Valley Regenerative Community are clearly higher than those for most planned developments. The CDC has taken the first steps on the long journey to true sustainability, and is prepared for the odd side trip and dead end. “We will learn as much from our failures as we will from our successes,” Tilsen stated. “You can’t build something new overnight.”