Tribal Colleges Utilize US Energy Funds to Build “Living Labs” for Clean Energy Development

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced a grant of almost $15 million to tribal colleges and universities across the United States to boost clean energy development. The funding aims to build “living labs” for clean energy development on campuses that can help reduce energy costs and train Native American students in renewable energy technology.

This grant follows a previous $50 million grant aimed at deploying clean energy technology across Indian Country. Many tribal communities in rural areas lack access to basic services such as running water, electricity, and broadband internet. The current funding seeks to use tribal colleges and universities as a conduit to build systems that can reduce campus electricity costs while training Native American students who can support a renewable energy economy in tribal communities.

Tribal colleges and universities are well-positioned to serve as centers for clean energy development. Many tribes have been leading the way in renewable energy development out of necessity given the lack of infrastructure in rural areas. In Montana, the Blackfeet Community College has achieved positive results through the construction of a technologically advanced building that accommodates math and science classes, along with the incorporation of solar panels on various structures within the campus. Furthermore, the educational program at the college has extended its benefits to other regions of Montana’s remote economy, as an increasing number of farmers have begun utilizing solar-powered systems to operate water supply mechanisms for their livestock.

From 2010 to 2022, the Office of Indian Energy has allocated over $120 million towards 210+ energy projects for various tribes throughout the United States. However, The cost of the infrastructure required to tackle the energy crisis in Native American communities amounts to billions of dollars, with access being just one part of the equation. The Moapa Band of Paiutes in Nevada has developed several hundred megawatts of solar power and is looking to develop more. In December, the Navajo Nation reached an agreement with the federal government to outline their strategy for shifting towards renewable energy, particularly as more coal-fired power plants and coal mines in the Southwest are being closed down.

Tribal ownership of the power produced is the next step in renewable energy development. It is crucial to be culturally sensitive to developing projects in Indian Country, taking into consideration factors related to sacred sites and cultural resources. The Office of Indian Energy acts as a central point for tribes to obtain new funding or establish connections with other agencies while dealing with the difficulties associated with development and implementation.

The funding for “living labs” will support clean energy projects across several tribal colleges and universities. The goal is to provide hands-on experience for Native American students in renewable energy development, creating job opportunities in tribal communities, and fostering the growth of the renewable energy sector.

In addition to reducing energy costs, the “living labs” will also be used as a testing ground for new technologies that can be deployed in tribal communities. The DOE hopes that the labs will help to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy technology in Indian Country and increase energy independence for tribal communities.

The DOE’s grant program is part of a broader effort to promote clean energy development across the United States. The Biden administration has set a goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, and clean energy development is seen as a critical part of achieving that goal.

In conclusion, the funding provided by the DOE to tribal colleges and universities is a significant step in the development of clean energy in Indian Country. The “living labs” will provide a valuable resource for training the next generation of Native American leaders in renewable energy technology, creating job opportunities in tribal communities, and promoting energy independence. With continued support from the federal government and private sector partners, the renewable energy sector in Indian Country is poised for significant growth in the coming years.

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