DOE Announces $366M To Enhance Energy Security in Tribal, Rural Communities

DOE Forrestal Building
DOE's Forrestal Building in Washington, D.C.

TEMECULA, CA – As part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced more than $366 million for 17 projects across 20 states and 30 tribal nations and communities to accelerate clean energy deployment in rural and remote areas across the country. This funding – made possible by the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – will support a variety of community-driven energy projects in rural and remote regions, such as building microgrids for community health centers to ensure electricity for critical life-saving equipment or constructing a new hydroelectric facility on tribal lands to improve access to reliable, affordable energy.

“President Biden firmly believes that every community should benefit from the nation’s historic transition to a clean energy future, especially those in rural and remote areas,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “Thanks to the President’s Investing in America agenda, DOE is helping revitalize communities across America – ensuring thriving businesses, reliable access to clean energy, and exciting new economic opportunities, now and for generations to come.” 

In line with President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative to advance energy and environmental justice, all 17 selected projects are located in or adjacent to disadvantaged communities that are disproportionately overburdened by pollution and historically underserved. Rural and remote communities face a unique set of energy challenges due to their smaller populations and isolation from larger electrical systems, including higher electric bills, unreliable energy supplies, and/or no access to electricity at all. For example, 21 percent of Navajo Nation homes and 35 percent of Hopi Indian Tribe homes remain unelectrified, according to a 2022 report by DOE’s Office of Indian Energy. Of the electrified homes within tribal communities, 31 percent reported monthly outages. Of the nation’s 350 persistently poor counties, 300 are rural. Low-income residents consistently face an “energy burden,” or percentage of household income spent on energy bills, that is three times higher than other households. 

Accelerating Clean Energy Deployment in Rural and Remote Communities

The projects announced are part of DOE’s Energy Improvements in Rural or Remote Areas (ERA) program, which is managed by the DOE Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations (OCED). The ERA program leverages DOE’s expertise in resilient energy solutions while recognizing the unique environmental, cultural, and economic landscapes of rural and remote communities. The selected projects cover a range of clean energy technologies, from solar, battery storage systems and microgrids to hydropower, heat pumps, biomass, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. 

At least 12 projects will support tribal communities, such as the Navajo and Hopi Nations, who plan to install solar and battery energy storage systems to provide electricity for 300 homes. Another project expects its proposed tribal clean energy projects to save each Taos Pueblo household in its service area $700 per year, highlighting the cost-savings benefits that come with the transition to a clean energy future. 

Examples of projects selected for award negotiation include: 

  • The Solar + Storage Microgrids for Rural Community Health Centers Project: (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee): The CHARGE Partnership – made up of the mission-aligned organizations the National Association of Community Health Centers, Capital Link, Collective Energy, and Clean Energy Group – plans to build energy resilience in community health centers to improve access to reliable health care in low-income, rural communities across eight states in the Southeast. The initial site for this project is in Tunica, MS, in partnership with Aaron E. Henry Community Health Center, which will incorporate additional community and workforce initiatives. The clean, resilient energy systems developed through this project will benefit up to 175 health center sites, ensuring energy reliability for critical  medical  equipment, refrigeration of insulin and vaccines, and continuity of care during emergencies and power outages. Participating health centers could save up to $45 million in energy costs, avoid millions in losses due to closures, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and create a scalable, replicable model for remote health care providers, strengthening the resilience of vulnerable communities across the country.    
  • Chignik Hydroelectric Dam and Water Source Project (Chignik Bay, AK): This project aims to renovate a 70+ year-old leaking dam and add a 2.1 MWh hydroelectric facility on the same site. In addition to restoring the dam, the project team has secured over $6 million to rehabilitate the community’s water supply and anticipates creating construction jobs with a tribal preference. The new hydroelectric facility will replace 100 percent of the community’s diesel consumption and provide power for homes, businesses, and economic activities like tourism and fish processing. The project will also provide a new revenue stream for its owners, the Chignik Bay Tribal Council, and could then sell excess power to utilities, reducing residents’ total electricity rates.  
  • Resilience and Prosperity in Rural Northern Wisconsin (24 sites across Red Cliff Band tribal lands and Bayfield County, WI): This project seeks to increase regional energy reliability with the deployment of 23 microgrid systems. Wisconsin’s Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy (OSCE) will promote local workforce development – particularly for construction and permanent project jobs – create avenues for meaningful public engagement, and provide clean energy education to residents. OSCE also aims to deploy solar power, battery storage, smart controls to enable islanding, and electric vehicle charging stations. 
  • Energizing Rural Hopi and Navajo with Solar Powered Battery-Based Systems (Navajo and Hopi communities in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah): This project plans to install 2.5 kW off-grid solar and battery storage systems to electrify 300 tribal homes, enhancing energy resilience and increasing electrification rates within the community. The project lead, Native Renewables Inc., is committed to an Indigenous-led workforce and has developed a program to increase the number of tribal solar-installation professionals. They will also host training and education for participating households on solar electric energy systems and best practices to ensure the longevity of battery storage systems. This electrification project will fulfill essential household power needs, including lighting, and refrigeration for food and medicine.