Interior secretary announces $700K in tribal energy grants

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PHOENIX (AP) — Federal officials announced Wednesday that nine tribes will share in more than $700,000 in grant funding meant to spur renewable energy development in Indian Country and that a second large solar project on tribal land in Nevada had been approved.

The grants announced by U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will be awarded to federally recognized tribes and will pay for efforts to build their capacity for energy and mineral resource development.

Jewell made the announcement alongside federal and tribal officials at the Heard Museum in Phoenix.

The funding would also enable tribes to develop their own regulations in working with power purchase agreements with utilities.

"The objective of this administration is to make sure that we support a clean energy future. Part of that is working closely with Indian tribes where tremendous amount of energy potential exists, which drives economic opportunity for tribes," Jewell said.

Earlier in the day the secretary visited the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in southeastern Arizona. That tribe will receive nearly $150,000 to train workers in solar photovoltaic system maintenance and to develop an energy operations plan, Jewell said.

Another Arizona tribe, the Hualapai, was awarded more than $100,000 to develop a training program for its diesel generating plant at Grand Canyon West.

Tribes in Alaska, New York, California, New Mexico and Washington state also will receive grants. The nine were chosen from 31 applications.

According to officials, the solar plant that was approved and will receive funding is the second utility-scale solar project approved for development on the Moapa River Indian Reservation. It will be located about 20 miles northeast of Las Vegas. The 200-megawatt project is expected to generate enough power for 60,000 homes and create up to 500 jobs at the peak of construction.

Officials with the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.

The first commercial-scale project, a 250-megawatt system, was approved in 2012 and is still in the construction process. Larry Roberts, principal deputy assistant secretary of Indian Affairs, said that one could become operational by 2015 and could power up to 100,000 homes.

American Indian leaders have said federal and tribal politics and bureaucracy have made energy development difficult in Indian Country. They have urged the federal government to streamline permitting processes, expand leasing reform and create an Indian energy self-determination law.

Tribal lands make up about 5 percent of the land mass in the United States but contain as much as one-fifth of the nation's energy resources, experts say.

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