Annual Event Highlights Nearly 40 Tribal Energy Successes Around the Country

In the heart of Native American Heritage Month, more than 200 Tribal members and leaders, Tribal energy champions and partners, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) staff, and other interested parties gathered in Denver for the 2023 Office of Indian Energy Program Review.

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The Office of Indian Energy 2023 Program Review was held November 13-16, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. Nearly 40 Tribal energy project presentations were given and over 200 people attended. Text version.

U.S. Department of Energy

As its primary purpose, the annual event serves as a venue for recipients of the DOE’s Office of Indian Energy’s competitive grants to present formal progress reports on their energy projects. Tribal leaders, staff, and energy project representatives take to the stage to share status updates, barriers, successes, and lessons learned, and highlight the impacts of their energy projects.

But the event has become much more than just a space for reporting on projects.

“This is an opportunity for Tribes to meet, learn from each other, and share in each other’s successes and learn from challenges,” said Lizana Pierce, Senior Engineer and Deployment Supervisor with the Office of Indian Energy. “We provide the venue, but the people make it special.”

Pierce initiated the Program Review nearly 25 years ago to bring Tribes together and provide a venue for information transfer.

An audience watches a presentation in a hotel ballroom.
Attendees listen and learn at the 2023 Program Review.
Photo by Joe DelNero, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

This year, attendees gave presentations on 39 energy projects from across the country. These projects build on the more than 210 Tribal energy projects and over $120 million invested by the Office of Indian Energy between 2010 and 2022. For every dollar invested by DOE, Tribes save $3.38, which has amounted to nearly $315 million in savings for Tribal communities.

At the start of the event, Office of Indian Energy Director Wahleah Johns and Deputy Director David Conrad welcomed attendees following a personal and moving invocation by Bernadette Cuthair, Director of Planning & Development for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

Director Johns spoke about her personal experience growing up without electricity on the Navajo Nation and said the Annual Program Review is a prime venue to see tangible progress in Indian Country.

“Everyone here at the Program Review [brings] their Indigenous wisdom and creativity and planning process into how they design these energy systems that work for themselves [and] that support their sovereignty,” said Johns.  

An older man speaks behind a podium.
Ingemar Mathiasson of the Northwest Arctic Borough presents on the high-penetration distributed solar-battery project in Noatak, Alaska at the 2023 Program Review.
Photo by Joe DelNero, NREL.

“I feel that, in this new era of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act funding, we are on the cusp of a clean energy revolution,” said Conrad. “Solving things, the way we’ve always solved them may not produce the best solutions, so we have to get innovative and find new solutions.”

Innovative solutions were clearly represented in the presentations, which displayed a variety of technologies, geographical locations, challenges, and solutions. From a high-penetration distributed solar-battery hybrid system in Noatak, Alaska to the microgrid resiliency project at Grand Canyon West in Peach Springs, Arizona, with each advancing the Tribe’s self-defined energy goals and priorities.

Attendees said the Program Review is a great place to meet, learn, and be inspired by the variety of clean energy projects happening across the country.

“I always enjoy coming to this conference because it gives me a lot of good ideas,” said Harvey Rambarath, Assistant Director of Planning and Development for the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Rambarath presented on the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s two rural reservation resiliency projects, which aim to boost energy reliability through solar energy and battery energy storage. The Big Cypress project was featured in a recent Tribal Energy Snapshot blog.

“It is such a supportive environment. People are clapping, supporting, offering emotional support, cheering for each other,” said Laura Laumatia, Environmental Programs Manager for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, about the Program Review. “I think that’s a pretty unique environment and one that helps steel you for the work ahead.”

Additional information about the event and presentation slides are available on the 2023 Program Review webpage.

Additional Information