Tribal Energy System Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather

From the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy, this report provides an overview of some of the tribal infrastructure and communities' vulnerability to climate change in the U.S. The Department aims to support tribal energy and economic infrastructure resilience by outlining tribal vulnerabilities on a regional level, and providing recommendations to aid tribes in designing more resilient energy infrastructure and management practices.

According to the report, few tribes own and operate the energy infrastructure that they rely upon. Some of the greatest risks they face is that private companies or utilities will pass the costs associated with climate change onto tribes, or that disruptions to fuel transportation and overall supply will leave tribes without energy access.

An overview of U.S. tribal trust lands (TTLs) and Alaska Native villages (ANVs) describes that TTLs and ANVs are part of an energy system comprised of end users, power plants, grid infrastructure, gas exploration and production areas renewable energy facilities and fuel transport networks, as are non-tribal lands. However, TTLs and ANVs are some of the most susceptible communities to climate change because of a high proportion of low-income residents,  and the limited resources available to respond to climate change. The report lists potential implications of climate change on TTLs and ANVs, categorized by energy sub-sector (see Table 1-1).

Climate change has varying effects on each region of the U.S. due to geographical differences. Likewise, regions rely more heavily on different energy sources, making them more susceptible to certain climate change effects.  Because of these regional differences, the report is structured into region-specific chapters, and classifies TTLs and ANVs within 7 regions: Alaska, Northwest, Southwest, Great Plains, Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast.  For each region, key climate change and extreme weather hazards are given, and the implications for each energy sector are discussed. Primary climate hazards include rising temperatures, decreasing water availability, severe storms, and sea-level rise. Where they exist, the report describes existing programs, policies, and energy ownership arrangements that have implications for tribal energy sources. For example, overviews are provided of the Power Cost Equalization Program which subsidizes the price of electricity in rural Alaska, and the Umpqua Indian Utility Cooperative in the Northwest where tribes own and operate their own electric utility.

The report concludes that across all regions the infrastructure critical for tribal energy users is threatened.  The Department recommends upgrading grid infrastructure, investing in additional generation capacity, utilizing renewable energy sources, and collaborating with other stakeholders to ensure tribal needs are protected.


Publication Date: September, 2015

Related Organizations:

  • Department of Energy


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment


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