The U.S. Department of Energy issued a report today showing that threats to tribal energy infrastructure are expected to increase as climate change impacts extreme weather conditions. The department also announced a $6 million grant opportunity to establish clean energy projects and energy efficiency projects on Indian lands that will help support economic opportunity and combat the effects of climate change on tribal lands.
The Tribal Energy System Vulnerabilities to Climate Change report assesses how climate change and extreme weather vulnerabilities specific to tribal energy infrastructure and systems in the contiguous United States and Alaska are projected to affect energy availability to Native American lands.
Tribal lands comprise nearly two percent of U.S. land, but contain about five percent of all the country’s renewable energy resources. With more than 9 million megawatts of potential installed renewable energy capacity on tribal lands, these tribal communities are well positioned to capitalize on their energy resources for local economic growth.
“The wide ranging effects of climate change — from more intense storms, harsher droughts, sea level rise, and escalating summer temperatures — pose an increasing threat to America’s energy systems and crucial infrastructure,” said Lynn Orr, DOE’s Under Secretary for Science and Energy. “The initiatives launched today by the Department of Energy continue our work with states, local governments, and tribal governments to understand the challenges posed by climate change and support the development of resilient infrastructure and the deployment of clean energy.”
Climate-related events are already affecting the way that Indian tribes in the United States use, receive, and produce energy. Higher temperatures, water shortages, and more frequent and intense disasters — such as flooding, wildfires, heat waves, and droughts — are threatening the economic and energy security of what are among the nation’s most impoverished communities. Other increasingly severe extreme weather events, such as thunderstorms, tornadoes and winter storms, can also severely damage the infrastructure that tribes rely on to deliver power and fuel.
“Tribes are among the U.S. communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” said Chris Deschene, Director of DOE’s Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs that issued the Climate Change Vulnerabilities Report. “Tribal lands, which are home to more than one million people, have a relatively high proportion of low-income residents, and tribes have limited resources to respond to climate-related impacts. To address these challenges proactively, tribal leaders have a need for reliable data and analysis that will allow them to make informed decisions as they work to develop viable strategies to ensure a secure and sustainable energy future for their communities.”
The Tribal Energy Systems Vulnerabilities Report was developed in response to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan outlining executive actions to prepare for the impacts of climate change, Executive Order 13653 directing federal agencies to help communities strengthen their resilience to extreme weather and prepare for climate change, and State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resiliency recommendations for supporting communities’ climate preparedness and resiliency efforts. It is intended to serve as an authoritative resource to assist tribal leaders, federal, state, and local governments, regulators and utility commissions, and energy asset owners and operators to strengthen tribal energy systems.
The report examines in detail, region by region, how climate change is likely to impact the infrastructure involved in supplying energy to tribal lands—including the many energy system components that are not directly owned or controlled by tribes.
For this reason, the report’s assessment of energy vulnerabilities considers the impacts of climate change on all key infrastructures involved in supplying the energy to tribal trust lands and Alaska Native villages, including many components not directly owned or operated by tribes.
Among the key findings the report presents for tribal consideration are:
– Climate change and extreme weather are likely to impact energy systems on Tribal Trust Lands and Alaska Native villages in a number of ways, including:
- Increasing electricity expenses as higher temperatures are likely to increase demand for air conditioning in the summer
- Greater likelihood of power outages due to damage to electric grid and generation infrastructure
- More frequent disruptions in fuel supply due to damage to transportation infrastructure or delays in rail, barge, or truck operations during severe weather
- Reduced electricity generation capacity for some power plants on Tribal Trust Lands, depending on the type of generating facility and location
– Few Tribal Trust Lands or Alaska Native villages directly own and operate the energy infrastructure that their communities depend on; tribal energy systems are primarily vulnerable to off-site risks such as supply disruptions and higher energy costs passed down from external utility providers.
– Tribal Trust Lands and Alaska Native Villages that own and operate energy infrastructure are subject to similar vulnerabilities as energy assets located outside of their boundaries. In these instances, tribal communities have greater self-determination in building the resilience of energy systems that they control.
– Interdependencies across energy subsectors could amplify the effects of climate change on the energy sector as a whole, and interdependencies between the energy sector and other sectors of the economy further complicate the effects of climate change on energy.
This report is one component of a broad Energy Department effort to support tribal climate preparedness and resilience. The DOE Office of Indian Energy plans to develop supplemental information resources targeted for regional meetings with tribal leaders and other stakeholders, as well as short briefs on actionable resilience strategies for tribes. In addition, the office will continue to provide technical assistance to help tribes identify, assess, and respond to specific vulnerabilities and resilience options.
The $6 million Funding Opportunity Announcement will help to deploy clean energy projects and energy efficiency projects on Indian lands, reducing reliance on fossil fuel and promoting economic development. DOE is soliciting applications from Indian tribes (including Alaska Native regional corporations, village corporations, tribal consortia, and tribal organizations) and Tribal Energy Resource Development Organizations to install (1) facility-scale clean energy and energy efficiency projects and (2) community-scale clean energy projects on Indian lands.
Cost-shared projects selected under this Funding Opportunity Announcement are intended to result in immediate cost savings, reduce energy use, and increase energy security for Indian Tribes and tribal members.
The Energy Department’s Office of Indian Energy promotes tribal energy sufficiency and fosters economic development and employment on tribal lands through the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. Over the years, the Department years has invested nearly $50 million in 183 tribal clean energy projects, provides financial and technical assistance to tribes for the evaluation and development of their resources, deployment of technologies, and education and training to help build the knowledge and skills essential for sustainable energy projects.