DOE Asks Tribes To Help Develop Alternative Energy Sources

The Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a Request For Information seeking feedback from Tribes and other parties interested in the deployment of renewable energy in Indian Country in the contiguous 48 States. The information will be used by DOE for internal planning and decision making under the federal Tribal Energy Program. Although Tribal Trust land comprises 5% of the land area in the United States (55.7 million acres) and contains an estimated 10% of all energy resources in the United States, (both conventional and renewable), less than a few hundred megawatts of renewable energy has been developed in Indian Country. Moreover, most of those are land lease deals as opposed to Tribes having ownership positions in the projects.

The information sought in the RFI is intended to assist DOE in determining barriers to renewable energy deployment and the most beneficial and efficient way for DOE to help accelerate the deployment of renewable energy in Indian Country. Energy development in Indian Country holds the possibility of providing energy to power local economic development, supporting the growing Native American population, creating businesses resulting in local jobs, or creating a revenue stream to help overcome some of the poverty that exists in many Native communities. Importantly, energy produced locally can also support Tribal sovereignty.

The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 extended Production Tax Credits (PTCs) for one year and broadened the eligible technologies, along with provisions for the long-term extension of Investment Tax Credits (ITCs) for renewable energy projects. As non-taxable entities, however, Tribes are not eligible for these credits unless they partner with a for-profit entity with tax liability. This restriction limits the ability of Tribes to have ownership positions in Tribal renewable energy projects. Further, the extension of PTCs and ITCs may limit renewable energy hardware availability and transmission capacity even for those Tribes that have investment funds.

Legislation has recently been introduced which may have enabled Tribes the ability to have ownership positions in energy development in Indian Country by allowing Tribes to transfer their PTCs to a taxable partner. These bills, however, have not been enacted. Hence, current Federal policy has not supported Tribally-owned renewable energy project development from a tax-mitigation perspective. Tribes now have an opportunity to highlight these discrepancies to the DOE and provide advice on how to eliminate current obstacles to energy development on Tribal lands.

Tribes and other interested parties should send responses to the RFI (one attachment only) via email with the title “RFI Response” to Responses should be submitted in Microsoft Word or PDF as an email attachment to the address above and received no later than 8:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time on February 28, 2009.