Alternative Energy Development in Indian Country: Lighting the Way for the Seventh Generation

23 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2012

See all articles by Elizabeth Ann Kronk Warner

Elizabeth Ann Kronk Warner

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law

Date Written: 2010


Studies increasingly show that Indian country may be uniquely positioned to develop alternative energy. Indian country in general constitutes a significant portion of land in the United States. In recognition of the increasing interest in alternative energy development within Indian country, some Native Nations have developed critical financial infrastructure to support and foster alternative energy development.

The idea is...a form of climate security. Indian tribes stand in a unique nexus between renewable energy resources and transmission of electricity in key areas of the West. Indian tribes would also be natural leaders for hosting and developing these keys areas to promote climate security and energy security. This development would be a call to service that Indian tribes are absolutely ready to answer – and uniquely ready to do so.

Outside of Indian country, there is a substantial interest in alternative energy development for a variety of reasons. In general, it appears that there are ample opportunities for domestic alternative energy development as: [i]t has been estimated that…the capacity of new wind generation in 2008 will have reached nearly 7,500 megawatts (at least 35 percent of new capacity added), bringing total installed wind capacity in the United States to about 24,000 megawatts. According to some estimates, the solar industry will have nearly doubled installations of solar photovoltaic modules that same year.

In recognition of the increasing opportunities for alternative energy development, industry has increased production of materials necessary for such development, and costs overall have dropped. As a result, “[t]he cost of generating electricity with wind is now less expensive than with natural gas.” This may be because “[w]ind energy is the world’s fasted [sic] growing energy technology...Investment in wind power could bring up to $3 billion into the power generation sector and, by 2020 provide six percent of the nation’s electricity.” Because of the growing interest in alternative energy development and its decreasing costs, third party investors are looking to invest in alternative development. There is also strong political interest in the development of alternative energies spurred by the new Administration. “President Obama campaigned on the creation of a national base renewable portfolio standard of 10 percent of energy to renewable sources by 2012 and 25 percent by 2025.” The recent political focus on the need to develop alternative energy sources coupled with the financial incentive to do so will likely result in “the best and most efficient way to effectuate the type of national…policy change required.”

This article explores the possibility of increased alternative energy development in Indian country. The purpose of this article is to examine the benefits to alternative energy development in Indian country as well as the obstacles facing many Native Nations in the development of their alternative energy resources under the existing regime. The first Section explores the reasons supporting the development of alternative energy specifically in Indian country. The second Section considers existing alternative energy projects that have been undertaken in Indian country. The third Section then goes on to discuss why and how the existing alternative energy development projects have been limited. Finally, the article concludes by finding that alternative energy development in Indian country is likely an attractive proposition for a variety reasons, but has been significantly hampered because of existing obstacles.

Keywords: alternative energy, Indian country, tribes, Indians, Native Americans, American Indians, renewable energy

Suggested Citation

Kronk Warner, Elizabeth Ann, Alternative Energy Development in Indian Country: Lighting the Way for the Seventh Generation (2010). Idaho Law Review, Vol. 46, No. 2, 2010, Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth Ann Kronk Warner (Contact Author)

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )

383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States

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