Energy secretary Chu talks about renewable energy development on tribal lands

Energy secretary Chu talks about renewable energy development on tribal landsU.S Secretary of Energy Steven Chu told American Indian and Alaska Native tribal leaders that he and the Department of Energy would support them in their clean energy pursuits.

Chu began his address at the first ever Tribal Leaders energy summit outside of Washington, D.C., on Thursday, by acknowledging the vast renewable energy resources available on tribal lands today.

“The wind potential in Indian country is enough to supply 32 percent of the power for this whole country,” Chu said. “And the solar potential on Indian lands is twice the total energy the U.S. population uses.”

Tribal leaders came to the summit from at least 50 different American Indian communities and many others joined discussions through a webcast and were able to submit questions electronically.

Many tribal leader questions and presentations during the second day of the summit detailed concerns about nuclear waste cleanup, health and pollution issues, and the renewable energy subsidy programs that hinge on tax credits American Indian reservations cannot benefit from.

Transmission issues were also tied in with nearly all of the discussions.

“The Department of Energy seeks to support more distributed generation,” Chu said, referencing solar and wind development on American Indian lands. “But to do that, we need better transmission infrastructure.”

Chu said that while the government is focusing on cutting budgets, it’s continuing to fund research and innovation and infrastructure investments in energy, including $3.4 million to modernize the grid and help tribes become connected.

The trouble in promoting grid and transmission development, Chu said, has been resistance from the people in the middle who aren’t generating power and aren’t using it, but have to watch a new power line go across their property.

While transmission is an energy issue throughout all elements of the energy conversation today, Chu also focused on bringing American Indians into the fold and insuring that tribes have a voice in policy decisions. The summit is a good first step toward that ongoing dialogue Chu said he hopes continues.

“By working together on energy issues, we can grow our economies and create jobs and provide for our energy future,” he said.

Still, the tougher questions went unanswered.

When one tribesman asked what Chu could do to fix the primary hurdle to solar and wind development on American Indian lands—that tribes are not taxed and thus cannot benefit from the 30 percent tax credit on solar or any other renewable energy incentives, thus making the endeavors more expensive on tribal lands than anywhere else—Chu wasn’t able to answer.

He said the issue was one for the IRS and that it was out of his jurisdiction.

“But we will work with you and try to be an advocate,” Chu said. “You have a sympathetic outlet.

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