Fair features tribal energy initiatives

Jackson, however, relies not just on survey data, but on his personal experience as a legislator.

“I believe the most critical barriers facing Indian country are the lack of limited legal, economic and technical resources. That is the message I carry with me to Washington D.C.”

It is important, Jackson said, that tribes concentrate on reducing the dependency on outside sources for electricity. The lack of energy development on reservation lands, he added, impacts other areas of concern, including economic development and lack of employment.

Jackson also shared the current status of Hopi and Navajo renewable energy programs, including the fact that the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) has installed over 200 photovoltaic systems in reservation homes. NTUA is seeking FY 2004 federal funding for connecting an additional 500 homes. The Hopi Foundation’s solar electric enterprise NativeSUN, has installed more than 450 photovoltaic systems on reservation homes.

“Future efforts,” Jackson said, “include ongoing collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories. The tribal action plan should include the establishment of partnerships to identify regional and tribal needs.”

After Jackson’s presentation, David Gorman, the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy rose to give the keynote address.

Gorman suggested that the gathering focus on building a different energy future should start with a look at the past. He referred to an earlier vision of the future, presented at the 1939 New York World Fair, where two exhibits–the Trilon Perisphere and the General Motors pavilion, Futurama–offered visions of the cities of the future.

“The question is, were they envision the future, or were they shaping it?” Gorman said. “We need to ask ourselves, what do we want for the future?”

We can envision a clean, abundant, reliable and affordable energy—a carbon emission free environment in a city where homes and businesses can generate their own power, Gorman said.

Gorman spoke highly of President Bush’s Energy Policy Act of 2003, including a budget, he said, that seeks more than Congress has provided in the last two decades.

“But,” he added, “change cannot be purchased, legislated, or mandated.”

Things, he said, are not happening as quickly as some might want, and that the effort is complicated by humans resisting change."

The Department of Energy (DOE) held its first solar decathalon on the mall in Washington, D.C.

The results, Gorman admitted, were shocking.

“One hundred thousand showed up. Millions more heard about it. What the public learned is that it is possible to support using sustainable and renewable energy resources.”

But there are still real barriers to the kind of change fairgoers are looking for. Prices need to come down, and emphasis needs to be placed on more than just photo voltaic energy resources, Gorman said.

Then Gorman opened a Pandora’s Box by stating that he believes it is still too soon to close the book on nuclear energy, and that 20% of today’s energy is provided through nuclear energy.

These words touched sensitive nerves in the audience, including those of Jackson.

“There is a pretty bad list of uranium mining victims on the Navajo Nation,” Jackson said. “We have miners dying at a higher rate, and there is a problem of uranium leeching into the ground water. All of this has drawn strong protests from the Navajo Nation, and I would caution against going down that road again.”

Another member of the audience brought up the touchy subject of nuclear waste storage, and objected to the idea of reviving the nuclear industry on the premise that the storage problems were answered with the Yucca Mountain project in Nevada.

Gorman answered that coal plants have their own waste problems as well, and that Nuclear Waste Fund resources are available to tackle this issue.

A question from a member of the press asked both Jackson and Gorman for comments on the President’s Energy Bill as it relates to allowing tribal consortia to build power plants on Indian lands with virtually no Department of the Interior oversight.

In response, Tanya Lee went on to point out that Title III and XXVI of the bill gave billions of dollars of grant money for building power plants on Indian lands, and that the tribal consortia had only to submit one environmental standards plan to the Department of the Interior (DOI), and after that was approved, the DOI was out of it, with a provision that no one, not even the tribes, could sue if something went wrong.

Surprisingly, Gorman seemed at a loss for information to answer this concern.

Nonetheless, Gorman was right in challenging fairgoers to envision a better energy future for the world--that we must be able to see a better future to be able to create it. The more than 85 exhibitors, the presenters of 65 workshops and seminars, and the hundreds of people who attended the fair prove that the creation of that future is well on its way.


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