Monday, June 30, 2014

Poverty and Promise in Our Own Backyard

The Rocky Mountain Institute recently released an article about rural electrification on American Indian land that was picked up by Cleantechnica [1]. It begins by quoting some rather unfortunate statistics: "almost 40 percent of the people live without electricity, over 90 percent live below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate exceeds 80 percent." It provides just a snapshot of the hardships American Indians are put through. By being "relocated" to remote lands with few resources, opportunities for American Indians to improve their livelihood are scant and often inadequate [2]. Being a white, middle-class New Englander I have very little at stake advocating for American Indian rights, but I do feel passionately that the poverty endured by American Indians on reservation land is one of the largest injustices in American history. A strong statement for a blog that typically refrains from such pointed language, but it's a serious matter that deserves a serious tone.

It's perhaps a bit of poetic justice that some of the reservation land that American Indians call home has some of the most promising wind and solar potential in the country. I've collected some resource potential maps from NREL to be displayed alongside a Bureau of Indian Affairs map of reservation locations:

For wind resources, South Dakota and parts of Montana have the most potential, and for solar PV, Arizona and Southern California have a lot of promise. The BIA has already identified the benefits of wind development on American Indian land and has published a report highlighting a few reservations with high wind potential [3]. Already a few large wind projects have been developed. I haven't come across much by way of solar development, which I think is a bit of an overlooked opportunity; the Navajo Nation for instance resides in an area with one of the highest solar insolation levels in the country, yet 40% of homes don't have access to electricity [4].

American Indians developing their renewable energy resources to their highest potential is a definite win-win scenario: availability of in-demand jobs, meeting of climate goals, access to electricity, improvement of relationships. It's one of the most clear-cut examples of a profitable triple bottom line enterprises I could imagine.



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