Native American lands in the southern 48 states are projected to have a solar energy potential of 17.6 TWh. According to a Bureau of Indian Affairs report, more than 150 American Indian reservations have the resource potential to support American-made renewable energy production.
Challenges in Solar Energy Plan for Native American Society
Indigenous peoples have been mistreated for as long as filthy energy firms have existed. Coal and oil companies have made these tribes’ economies dependent on fossil fuels. This has made it difficult for people who want to switch to sustainable energy sources.
In the case of the Navajo Nation, exploitation has become quite visible. Despite having a coal plant that generates 2.25 gigawatts of power, the tribe still has approximately 15,000 households that do not have access to energy.
In the year 2000, more than 14% of all Native American homes lacked access to electricity. This figure is more than ten times higher than the national average. The majority of these same houses do not have access to clean water.
The Navajo are not the only tribal community encountering difficulties in making the shift from coal to sustainable energy. Despite the government giving an average of $7.8 million per year in federal financing for renewable energy technologies since 2010, Native American tribes have been slow to deploy sustainable power on tribal territory.
Typically, the central government has given money for solar development on tribal property. However, funding is rarely sufficient to pay the whole project cost. Furthermore, in many situations, inadequate project management has impacted solar installations.
The combination of governmental and philanthropic financing, as well as industry professionals and volunteer administration, might assist Native communities in acknowledging their renewable energy potential. Almost every reservation would benefit from increased energy security as a result of this.
Balancing Technology and Cultural Issues
President-elect Joe Biden has stated that his presidency will prioritize renewable power. He has also vowed to grant tribes a stronger say in administering state land with cultural importance to native populations.
Conflict is possible since the same massive projects that assist fulfill renewable energy targets sometimes harm indigenous cultural, spiritual, and burial grounds. Tribes and environmentalists are wondering what, if any, the incoming government would do to strike a balance between these objectives.
To generate enough electricity to make the projects financially feasible, several acres of land are necessary. Opponents of renewable energy initiatives object to a variety of consequences, including the destruction of cultural treasures and landscapes, as well as the loss of native vegetation.
Aside from cultural concerns, environmentalists are concerned that utility-scale projects would harm fragile desert habitats. Environmentalists, for example, have noticed that animals are drawn to the reflecting panels. The solar panels resemble a lake, and the birds fly into them.
Then there is the carbon footprint. When a desert environment is harmed, tribal cultures lose this foundation, which collects and sequesters carbon dioxide. Loss of habitat affects desert tortoises as well.
Another example is when the government suspended an offshore wind power plant in Nantucket Sound in response to strong opposition from several groups. According to tribal authorities, the planned Cape Wind would have harmed the environment and priceless undersea archaeological sites.
How Tribes and Environmentalists may Reach An Agreement on Certain Solutions
Many projects opt not to ask about or respond to issues voiced throughout the early planning stages. The destruction of cultural assets in these areas has an impact on tribes’ negotiating power in the future, particularly for tribes that do not live in their native homeland.
There are other ways to construct renewable energy facilities that do not involve destroying virgin deserts. Brownfields are one option. These include abandoned gas stations, industrial buildings, and strip malls. These properties can be tidied up more rapidly in preparation for redevelopment.
These are significantly better options for exploiting a pristine environment or demolishing historic cultural places. Many of these locations already have power lines running to them. To be honest, that appears to be a no-brainer right there.
Additionally, farmland with high levels of selenium and other agricultural waste minerals can certainly be converted into solar panel plans. Abandoned lime pits in Nevada that will take a geological period to recover may also very well be used.
Despite Biden’s pledges on tribal policy, transition authorities have yet to answer concerns about how the administration would balance its push to create green energy facilities. Local authorities are hoping that Biden would keep his promise and reconsider the whole range of policies that may have an impact on tribal religious sites.
Those policies, like any other regulation, are evolving contracts. The change will take time, but native American activists are optimistic that the Biden administration would ultimately make some reforms for the good of Indian Country.
While each Native American tribe has its own set of practices and traditions, they all have a strong emphasis on the preservation of the natural environment. Solar energy is ideal for those tribes who want to decrease their environmental impact while reducing expenses on power.
Because of the dependability of solar energy, Native American tribes can benefit greatly from it. Furthermore, because solar decreases the carbon impact, it aids communities in maintaining ecological sustainability.
However, the efforts for solar energy and the preservation of native American cultures and environmental treasures must go hand in hand. A partnership between the government, industry professionals, and local officials can assist indigenous people in achieving these objectives.