Help for tribes to electrify homes available through new grant program
The construction project to build the Kayenta solar farms on the Navajo Nation, shown here in 2018, employed hundreds of people, nearly 90 percent of whom were Navajo citizens. Renewable energy is drawing increasing attention from tribes and others as a way to build jobs for the future. (Photo from the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority / Navajo Nation)
Thousands of homes across Indian Country are still not connected to electricity, including an estimated more than 14,000 on the Navajo Nation alone.
That accounts for more than 80% of the tribal homes in the United States that aren’t electrified.
But it could all change with the launch of the Tribal Electrification Program by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which will provide funding to help tribal nations get connected to electricity.
“The goal of the funding is to get electricity to homes,” Onna Lebeau, director of the Office of Indian Economic Development (OIED), told the Arizona Mirror. “We do see the electrification need in Indian Country is in a critical state.”
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
The Department of the Interior launched the Tribal Electrification Program on Aug. 15 with $72.5 million that will directly help tribal nations electrify homes and expand the availability of clean energy in Indian Country.
“This funding from the president’s Investing in America agenda will bring electricity to homes in Tribal communities that have never had it,” Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said in a press release. “It will have a fundamental and significant impact on businesses, communities, and families.”
Newland added that this historic investment is one of many the department is making to fund long-overdue infrastructure needs in Indigenous communities.
Regarding connecting homes to electricity within Indigenous communities, Lebeau said the need has long been there, and through the funding available from the new program, they can prioritize this need.
It will help the homes within tribal communities that not only need updating, Lebeau said, but the homes that need to be connected to the grid for the first time.
In 2022, the Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy released a report about Tribal Electricity Access and Reliability, where they found 16,805 tribal homes were not connected to electricity, resulting in 54,209 residents living without electricity. The price of electricity on tribal lands, according to the report, is 56% higher than the national average.
The Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe have some of the highest numbers of homes not connected to electricity, and together account for nearly 90% of all unelectrified tribal homes nationwide.
According to the report, there are 68,101 homes on the Navajo Nation, with an estimated 14,063 without electricity and about 45,001 people living without power. For the Hopi Tribe, there are 2,508 homes located on their tribal land, with an estimated 878 homes without electricity and about 2,810 people living without power.
Between the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe, that is roughly 15,000 homes and nearly 48,000 people between just two communities living without power, compared to the approximately 16,800 homes and more than 54,000 people living without electricity in the U.S.
The funding comes via the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which was signed into law last summer. It is part of an overall $150 million investment from the IRA to support the electrification of homes in tribal communities.
The new program increases efforts to electrify Indian Country to provide reliable, resilient energy that tribes can rely on, Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release. The program will also advance the department’s work to tackle the climate crisis and build a clean energy future.”
“Climate change is the crisis of our lifetimes and has left far too many communities managing for worsening water challenges, extreme heat, devastating wildfires, and unprecedented storms,” Haaland added. “Every action we take now to lessen the impacts for future generations is critical.”
The program will work to provide electricity to unelectrified homes located on tribal land through zero-emissions energy systems, and it will transition electrified tribal homes to zero-emission energy systems, including the associated home repairs within homes to install necessary systems for zero-emission energy.
The program will work to meet the unique needs of individual tribal communities, according to the Department of Interior, because the demand for electrification across Indian Country is significant, and each tribe has its own energy and electrification-related needs and implementation capacity.
Lebeau said a unique component of the program is that it will also coordinate financial and technical assistance to tribes to increase the number of tribal homes connected with zero-emission electricity.
“We do understand each of our tribes are at various levels within their development,” she said. “The technical assistants will be able to support those tribes who need additional guidance through the program.”
Lebeau said there are tribal nations that have the infrastructure set in place, such as wind power or solar energy, but then there are others that need help getting their projects off the ground, which is where the technical assistance from the program comes in.
“The technical assistance will be able to support them,” Lebeau said. “We are doing our best to meet the needs of each community.”
Lebeau said that when tribes start applying, they need to state their unique needs to meet their capacity within their community.
“The primary goal is to get electricity into the homes. That’s what’s driving this program,” Lebeau added. “The individuality of each need of each community is so important when it comes down to truly understanding how we’re going to be able to support everyone.”
The Department of the Interior stated that the program expects to obligate roughly half of the funding by the end of the year.
As part of the program, the Office of Indian Economic Development will select a range of tribal communities in stages ranging from early planning to already implementing plans and actions for household electrification.
There are two deadlines tribal nations should be aware of when applying for the program. The first deadline is for the pre-application process, due by Sept. 18, and the second is for the full application, due Dec 22.
Applications will only be accepted by eligible applications, which include federally recognized Native American or Alaska Native tribes or an approved tribal entity. Applicants must demonstrate need, community impact, and capacity.
To learn more about the application process, visit the Tribal Electrification Programs website.
This story was originally published by Arizona Mirror. It is republished here with permission.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.