Tribal Solar Projects Provide More Than Climate Solutions

Renewable energy isn’t just a green business venture; it’s a way to support tribal self-determination and economic development.

In August 2021, two wildfires surrounded the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in central Montana. By Aug. 11, more than 175,000 acres were ablaze, and all residents of Lame Deer, the largest town on the reservation, were asked to evacuate. Several communities lost power and cell service, and the local Boys and Girls Club set up door-to-door food delivery. Some of those forced to evacuate were staff at Covenant Tribal Solar Initiative , a nonprofit that supports tribal communities’ transition to solar power and development of renewable energy workforces. Wildfires like those surrounding Northern Cheyenne—which may get worse because of climate change —exemplified the urgent need for Covenant’s work.

About one-quarter of U.S greenhouse gas emissions come from electricity, so transitioning to renewable energy like solar power is an important part of reducing the nation’s overall emissions. Climate change is already affecting tribal communities across the U.S.—affecting the ability to gather traditional foods and medicines, drinking water quality in rural communities, and more. In places like Montana, climate change-driven warmer temperatures, drier soils, and reductions in snowpack may make fire season worse .

For tribes like those Covenant Solar works with, the switch to solar power is urgent to mitigate the long-term impacts of fossil fuels. But it is also a way to strengthen tribal self-determination through workforce development and energy independence from often exploitative, non-Native-run utilities. “We are disrupting the broken fossil fuel-based energy […]

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