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New Report Showcases CA Tribal Energy Development, and Opportunities

March 24, 2010

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Native American tribes manage 95 million acres of possibilities for new clean energy development, although there are some hurdles to getting the projects off the ground, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation.

The report says solar, wind and geothermal have the biggest potential for California's tribal lands. The findings don't surprise Monique LaChappa, chairwoman of the Campo Kumeyaay Nation in Southern California, the first tribe to set up a wind farm.

"But you have to remember, you also have to have everything that goes with starting a renewable energy project: transmission, the developers."

She says changes in state and federal policy, tax law changes, and access to capital all are needed so that more tribes can develop resources. Similar points are echoed in the report.

Tribal Lands Conservation Program Director Steve Torbit says federal maps of clean energy potential draw lines around almost every Indian property.

"They were definitely given the worst of what was left, and now it's turned out to be, as far as renewable resources are concerned, some of the best that we have."

Cristala Mussato-Allen is executive director of Native Workplace, a nonprofit company that helps Native Americans get training for "green" jobs and industries. She says tribes across the country are getting calls almost daily from outside firms, wanting to use Indian resources and land – when the tribes would rather be their own developers.

"We're not creating economic development for ourselves when it's other companies coming in, bringing in their employees - and we don't share in the profits, and we don't share in the workforce."

In addition to helping states meet their renewable energy goals, the report outlines how these types of projects can help tribal energy needs, too. Fifteen percent of Native homes nationwide have no electricity, and the report documents that tribal households pay significantly greater home energy expenses than other Americans.

Several organizations – NWF, the Native American Rights Fund, and the Intertribal Council On Utility Policy – collaborated on the report, "The New Energy Future in Indian Country." It can be viewed online at http://nwf.org.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - CA