One of the most important things we do at Western—after providing low-cost federal hydropower to public power utilities—is to help our customers manage their resources in a rapidly changing world. Now in its fourth year, the Tribal Renewable Energy Webinar Series is helping Native American tribes to gain a clear picture of a complex industry and build business relationships needed to develop the renewable resources on their lands.
Western has partnered with the Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs to present tribal members and stakeholders with valuable, practical knowledge about renewable energy technologies, markets and policies. Since 2011, the series has covered every aspect of project development, from resource and site evaluation to transmission access and interconnection to power marketing. The current series, Knowledge to Energy: The Path to Projects, builds on the material presented in the previous years to focus on best practices, case studies, regulatory issues and business and financing models.
This cost-effective approach to technical assistance has reached thousands of Native American representatives and interested stakeholders. More than 3,500 tribal members participated in the 2014 series alone, and 2015 is off to a promising start, said Western Renewable Energy Program Manager and Webinar Series Chair Randy Manion. “We’ve received many notes of thanks and appreciation already for the first two webinars,” he commented. “We spend several months planning these series to ensure topics are on target, timely and useful in moving renewable projects forward on tribal lands.”
The January webinar, Best Practices in Developing a Tribal Strategic Energy Plan, had particular significance to a tribal representative located in Western’s Upper Great Plains Region. “He told me afterward that the tribe is developing a strategic energy plan, and the webinar made him realize the importance of community input in planning,” recalled Manion. “Those positive feedbacks happen after each webinar, and they are confirmations that we are on the right track with our topics and speakers.”
Manion explained that during the last four years, the question-and-answer sessions during the webinar and feedback afterward have helped the planning committee to hone in on what interests the tribes. Recruiting speakers, while still a formidable task, is getting easier as the series gains recognition for its high quality. “More tribal leaders and staff are joining the experts on the agenda,” he said. “We see an uptick in audience interaction and interest when the participants have a chance to talk to peers about their experiences developing projects.”
The growing number of tribes with their own experience is another indication of the success of the webinar series. “Getting tribal members to participate as presenters for the webinars has been a priority for the series this year,” Manion acknowledged.
The series has helped tribes to better understand what they need to reach full or partial energy self-sufficiency—a high priority on tribal lands—and to keep that momentum going during changes in tribal councils and leadership positions. “We are also bridging awareness within the energy industry of what tribes are doing successfully, who they are and how to work with them,” added Manion.
Like many outreach programs intended to help customers, the Tribal Webinar Series has been good for the sponsoring agencies as well. Western’s Power Marketing representatives have observed that what tribes learn from the webinars about renewable energy issues increases their understanding of hydropower marketing and transmission issues.
More than talk—action!
The benefits of the webinar series extend beyond better communication about energy development to an increase in requests for technical assistance from the federal sponsors. Western has conducted several pre-feasibility transmission studies in support of potential renewable energy projects on tribal lands. These studies help tribes determine the probable size, interconnection and feasibility of proposed renewable projects, and also assist in the search for financing and potential buyers for the generation.
“Our technical assistance to Native American Tribes is not limited to pre-feasibility transmission studies and webinars,” Manion said. “With the funding Western receives from the DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, we are open to considering other requests.”
For example, Western has conducted four prefeasibility studies for tribal utility formation. Two of the tribes are now independently moving forward to the next level of analysis. Also, the Energy Management and Marketing Office in Western’s Desert Southwest Region is conducting a market assessment to remove barriers and identify opportunities for tribal renewable energy projects that could interconnect with the ED5-Palo Verde Hub Transmission Project, funded by the Transmission Infrastructure Program.
Tribes interested in receiving technical assistance need to complete a simple TA form on the DOE Office of Indian Energy and Policy Program website. If DOE believes that Western can complete the request, it is forwarded to Manion who coordinates appropriate colleagues in an internal review to determine if it is suitable for Western to act on the request. In some cases, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory or another federal entity may be better equipped to handle the request. DOE, NREL and Western staff confer extensively with the requesting tribe before making the decision as to whether the request is a good fit for the agencies.
Native American tribes are poised to play a greater role in meeting the nation’s need for low-carbon, home-grown energy resources. At the same time, developing renewable energy projects is a way for tribes to grow their local economy and improve the quality of life in Indian Country. Western and the DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs are pleased to provide technical assistance such as the Tribal Renewable Energy Webinar Series to move tribes closer to these goals.
The Tribal Renewable Energy Webinar Series is usually scheduled for the last Wednesday of each month, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mountain Time. There is no cost to attend, but you must register in advance. Presentations and audio files from past webinars can be found in the Renewable Energy Program webinar library.