Center for World Indigenous Studies
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Nations open door to Energy Independence

Published: January 29, 2008, Author: MHirch

Guest Contributor: Laura Killian, CWIS Associate Scholar

Obtaining clean energy and working towards independence from fossil fuels has, up until recently, been a far off, expensive notion for small communities. That notion is changing, due in part as renewable energy technology advances while new markets open, allowing for costs to be lowered each year. Fourth World nations are in position to clear a pathway to promote energy independence in North America.

Efforts to reduce dependence while supporting the local economy and incorporating community participatory planning and collaboration can be seen in many Fourth World communities including the Yakama Nation in Washington State, members of the All Indian Pueblo Council in New Mexico, Kumia in southern California, and the Black Feet in Montana. First Nations in Canada and Indian Nations in the United States are providing innovative leadership models by collaborating with fellow Nations, academic institutions, government agencies and the private sector to work on solar, wind, small hydro and biomass projects.

Organizations such as the Center for Indigenous Environmental Resources (CIER), based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, the First Nation Energy Alliance, based on the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve and the Intertribal Council On Utility Policy (COUP), based in Rosebud, South Dakota, are all working on feasibility reports, integrated approaches for community participation in environmental planning and education, and project support for the transfer of energy on reserves and reservations from oil and coal to the renewable energy sector, especially with wind technology.

Wind power provides the most cost effective option for the energy needs of a community, assuming the geography provides the necessary ingredient, wind. According to NRG Systems, a world leader in the manufacture of wind energy assessment equipment, wind energy in the United States could provide as much as 40% of our electricity. Today’s wind farms can generate electricity for less than 5 cents per kilowatt-hour in many parts of the U.S., a price that is competitive with new coal or gas-fired power plants. The cost is expected to decline as the technology improves and the market for this source develops.

Playing a large role in developing the wind market within the Fourth World in the United States is the Intertribal Council On Utility Policy (COUP). This Council is made up of thirteen Tribes from North Dakota, South Dakota and Kansas who provide policy analysis, workshops and wind energy development for its communities. They provide a great example of innovative problem solving through inter-tribal collaboration and investment. In addition, extra energy produced by their windmills can be sold back to the electric companies, thus, creating a strong arm in the local economy.

By keeping efforts strong and proactively engaging with their communities, state agencies and local companies for the assessment and investment of renewable energy technology and education, Fourth World Nations can reduce their dependence on outside sources for power while strengthening their local economy. With money earned from casinos, entrepreneurships and businesses, Nations in Canada and the United States are in a position to invest in an important technology that solves many problems at once. Utilizing collaborative efforts for assessment, planning and implementation of renewable energy technology in the Fourth World should be recognized as utter importance for the survival of each community and surrounding ecology.

(c) 2008 Center for World Indigenous Studies

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