Part 1A large section of Native Americans living on the reservations is found in remote areas with no access to power and lights. Dirt roads divide neighbors and make the cost of connecting power to each of the homes economically impossible, which means that many homes do not have any power. The presence of these solar farms means that the inhabitants of these reservations do not have to charge their phones with power from their trucks. They do not have to use lanterns that produce dangerous fumes to light their way at night (GENI, n.d). Besides, the distribution of power from the solar farms has a positive effect on the economy of the reservations by creating jobs and expanding their economy. For instance, the Campo Band belonging to the Kumeyaay Indians from San Diego is investing back the income it gained from its solar wind farm into projects such as a rest stop as a way to enhance the Tribe’s economy. In most instances, the process of reinvesting capital will help to reduce unemployment. By extension, this has been helpful in developing the Tribe’s living standards. The solar farms eliminate the need for the population to purchase generators which are vulnerable to breaking down(Walshe, 2013).
The growing benefits of solar power have seen companies such as First Solar, one of the largest makers and developer of solar panels, which acquired a solar energy farm on the Paiutes Indians tribal lands found near Las Vegas. The energy produced from the farm will be sold to the Department of Water and Power located in Los Angeles (Warburg, 2015). This particular solar project is a section of a 1500-megawatt renewable energy project that the tribe aims to expand. Projects driven by Native Americans are especially attractive to such investors as the tribes control their lands and provide little chance for opponents to make use of laws touching on the environment to either slow or destroy the projects (Walshe, 2013).
The creation of solar farms has brought with it the challenge of low paying and temporary forms of employment and a significant amount of pollution as well as negative impact on the environment. Besides, the profits as well as benefits accompanying the solar farms being felt only by outside investors, residents living in urban centers and those who own agricultural lands (GENI, n.d). Native Americans who own these lands have only benefited to a smaller degree largely from payments to lease out their lands. Instead, they have to deal with the bigger, long-term impacts of setting up the farms including challenges to their health, reduced and polluted sources of water and grazing areas that are contaminated (Woody, 2013).
Another problem comes in from the fact that tribes making plans to export their electricity must acquire agreements to purchase power with potential buyers (Warburg, 2015). In most instances, energy costs under the contract heavily depend on the time for production of energy since the value of electricity changes based on the time of day. Tribes that do not have access to these agreements from early in their project development phase often find it difficult to find buyers for their electricity (GENI, n.d).
There is also the danger of contracting their power generation to a particular owner as in the case of The First Solar project. Using this structure for managing the solar farms means that the particular tribe is in danger of giving up much of their ownership of the project (Woody, 2013). In extreme cases, the tribe might lease its land to a company at a flat rate in exchange for a share of the gross income that the company will get from selling the energy. However, the fact that the tribe has little overall control creates an uncomfortable and tense situation (GENI, n.d).
- Global Energy Network Institute (GENI). (n.d). Renewable energy on tribal lands retrieved 22 Mar 2017 from: http://www.geni.org/globalenergy/research/renewable-energy-on-tribal-lands/Renewable-Energy-on-Tribal-Lands.pdf.
- Walshe, S. (2013, July 3). Native American tribes are blazing a trail for solar power. The Guardian, retrieved 22 Mar 2017 from: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/blog/native-american-tribes-solar-power
- Warburg, P. (2015, Aug 24). In clash of greens, a case for large-scale U.S. solar projects. Quartz retrieved 22 Mar 2017 from: http://e360.yale.edu/features/in_clash_of_greens_a_case_for_large-scale_us_solar_projects
- Woody, T. (2013, Sept 26). Meet the newest big solar developers: Native Americans. Quartz retrieved 22 Mar 2016 from: https://qz.com/128855/meet-the-newest-big-solar-developers-native-americans/