The U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Tracey LeBeau (Cheyenne River Sioux), director for the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, met with Wisconsin tribal leaders in Milwaukee last week to discuss renewable energy projects. The DOE, in coordination with the Forest County Potawatomi Tribe hosted the one-day event on July 12. About a dozen Wisconsin Tribal leaders attended from the Forest County Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk and Oneida Nations were able to discuss projects and opportunities in working with the DOE.
LeBeau explains: “The event was one in a series of roundtables, leader forums and tribal summits initiated by the Department of Energy over the past year and is a response to initial tribal leader requests to share information, learn best practice techniques and interact with industry leaders through the DOE…. It also provide face-to-face interaction with tribes who have active projects with the U.S. Department of Energy.”
Wisconsin tribes who participated in the roundtable have engaged the DOE for support in their renewable energy projects. The Forest County Potawatomi Tribe was one of several tribes to be awarded a Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team (START) program grant. It will help the tribe evaluate local biomass options for their Crandon, Wisconsin facilities and help advance them to the next phase of a 2-megawatt anaerobic digester and biogas generation facility. The Oneida Seven Generations Corporation received a 1 million dollar grant to help the tribe leverage a $7 million loan from the state of Wisconsin. The funds will help to support the development of a waste gasification energy recovery facility, which when developed will be capable of converting 150 tons of municipal waste in 5 megawatts of electricity per hour, according to DOE program staff.
“There has been much discussion in Indian country about developing more clean energy projects, but we aren’t seeing them,” LeBeau said. “With coordination and support from her office, tribes may be able to begin to make some headway in developing these important opportunities, that will not only help to support their local tribal economies, but the overall mission of the DOE, which is to ‘ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.’
Many tribes are positioned to help address these challenges, through projects in small and large scale solar, wind, hydro, geothermal or even biomass energy production.”
She would like to encourage tribes to take ownership of the function and design of her office. As a Native she understands and respects the position of tribal governments.
“Our job is to help figure out a way to assist tribes in reaching their vision…to bring their [economic] vision into focus, and bring expertise and resources to them,” LeBeau said.
Facilitating these events helps to accomplish this objective. Other DOE efforts include the development of the Indian Country Energy & Infrastructure Working Group (ICEIWG), which gives tribes input in the form of a collaborative group of representatives. The Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin recently became a member of the group, which will help to address important energy issues faced by tribal Nations throughout the U.S.
Last week’s event was one of the first opportunities for Secretary Chu to meet with tribal leaders on their own home lands and demonstrate his commitment to working with Indian tribes, as he stated last year at a summit held in May, 2011. “By working together, we can promote economic development and help many more tribes and villages seize the clean energy opportunity.” Over 350 tribes were represented at that event.
LeBeau ensures her department will continue the effort and work to be more responsive to tribal interests. The goal is to share the outcome of tribal projects and make available the information and reports through her office.
“Tribes like to know what other tribes are doing and what works in Indian Country,” she said.
Her office also plans to coordinate with other agencies on opportunities for tribes; they are working to involve the U.S. Department of Defense, by sharing their short and long term energy and contracting needs. This may give tribes additional opportunities to engage U.S. programs in energy and economic development projects.
Reports on past summits and roundtables, as well as other information and resources can be found at the Department of Energy Website: http://energy.gov/indianenergy.