Federal Grant To Help Oneida Nation in Exploring Renewable, Resilient Energy

The U.S Economic Development Administration(EDA) has awarded a federal grant to the Oneida Nation within the American Rescue Plan. Oneida will join the rest of the world on the quest to achieve a zero-emission city. 

The America Rescue Program involves a $100 million grant to help tribal governments and indigenous communities with renewable projects that will boost their economies. Oneida received $648,339, which will help particularly in solar exploration. 

During the award announcement, the assistant secretary of commerce EDA, Alejandra Castillo, said, ‘Tribal communities were disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. This EDA investment in the Oneida Nation will support its efforts to transition to renewable energy to not only build economic resiliency on the reservation but also diversify its economy and create energy sector-related jobs.’

The grant from EDA will support all activities involved in planning and hiring contractors and staff within four years. After planning, other equipment needed for manor projects will be from other sources. Applications are now closed for nations to benefit from the American Rescue Plan program. The awards will be made till the end of September 2022. 

This project will encourage the development and installation of solar systems, microgrids, and battery systems across the nation. The policy director of RENEW Wisconsin(a nonprofit that promotes renewable energy use), Michael Vickerman, expressed confusion over Oneida’s plans. Oneida may choose to create a municipal utility for the tribe, more solar systems for each home, or charging stations for electric vehicles. 

‘It could run the poles and wires in the reservation, or it could be more like an energy contracting company. If it pursued the former route, it would have to compensate the existing owner of the infrastructure.’

The Oneida Nation receives power supply from the Wisconsin Electric Power Company and the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation. If the traditional grid shuts down, each microgrid served by the corporation can operate independently. This grant will help Oneida design more microgrids in geographical parts of the nation. They will serve as emergency backup power for essential services during intentional or unintended power outages, such as outages experienced during a June storm. 

The grant will give the Oneida Nation insight into the feasibility of electric vehicles for tribal operations.

Michael Troge, a project manager in the Oneida Environmental Health and Safety and Land & Agriculture division, said, ‘This project is partly intended to provide planning and feasibility for fleet electrification. There is significant motivation nationwide to promote electric vehicles and the infrastructure to support them. This was an ideal time to pursue funds that can give Oneida Nation the tools to do some level of transition to electric vehicles to meet community goals, market demands, and technical needs.’

A report from 2014 shows Oneida’s efforts toward renewable projects. The nation began the Solar Deployment on Tribal Facilities (SDTF) project and explored energy opportunities. 

The SDTF project would design contracts to have solar panels on tribal buildings. Between January 2018 and September 2019, the project reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 2.2 million pounds, equivalent to planting over 55,000 trees. The previous project also caused a minimum annual savings of over $20,000 over two years. This report shows that solar projects have begun and will expand in years to come.

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