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Native Americans: New Players in Renewables? Sept 2010

Renewable developer NativeOne — along with the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation and a Navajo family — have embarked on a plan to build a solar power plant on that parcel of real estate, and in the process underscore the growing opportunity for erecting alternative energy installations on Native American lands across the country. Under the right circumstances, these deals can lead to lower prices for developers, and jobs, royalties and revenue for the tribes. “We want to make sure that whatever we build creates jobs and income and is eventually owned by the tribe,” said Don Lyons, CEO of NativeOne Financial Holdings, the parent company, and a member of the Morongo band of Mission Indians.In Alaska, Laurus Energy is working with the Cook Inlet Region Inc., (CIRI) a Native American corporation, to build an underground coal gasification facility in Alaska. CIRI also has invested in wind farms, a geothermal project and the Westly Group, the VC firm headed up by Steve Westly.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe owns a piece of Solix Biofuels, a Colorado startup that wants to produce diesel from algae. Elster, meanwhile, recently signed a deal to install smart grid equipment and meters in the Navajo nation.Although Native Americans only constitute about 1.4 percent of the U.S population, national tribes hold over 55.7 million acres of land. Twelve reservations are larger than Rhode Island and nine are larger than Delaware, according to Scott Eskwitt, a director at NativeOne. The Navajo alone collectively own reservation lands that rival West Virginia in size.

“Renewable energy development creates value in land that can either no longer be used for agricultural purposes or was previously worthless,” Eskwitt said. “In the 1800s, the government forced Native Americans onto lands that at the time were thought to be without value. Then they ran the national power grid across those lands. Add in the sun and the wind, and renewable energy becomes the best and highest use of the property.”

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