Energy for American Indians, Alaska Natives and Other Under-Served and Low-Income Communities

The Department of Energy’s Quadrennial Energy Review 1.2, issued in January 2017, noted that “it is estimated that one in seven Indian households is without access to electricity” and that an extrapolation of EIA and census data suggests this number could be as high as 160,000 people on tribal lands without access to electricity. Earlier, in March 2016, DOE issued the Strategic Roadmap 2025 to help implement its mission to “maximize the development and deployment of energy solutions for the benefit of American Indians and Alaska Natives.”


The Roadmap identified priority areas to:

  • Promote Indian tribal and Alaska Native energy development, efficiency and use.
  • Reduce or stabilize energy costs.
  • Enhance and strengthen Indian tribal and Alaskan native energy and economic infrastructure related to natural resource development and electrification.
  • Bring electrical power and service to Indian land and the homes of tribal members.
  • Support and promote meaningful tribal and native community participation in critical national and global tribal energy initiatives and crosscuts, including the water-energy nexus, grid modernization and microgrids.
  • In addition, QER 1.2 analysis concluded that low-income and minority communities remain disproportionately exposed to air quality and water quality issues associated with electric power generation. Compared to the U.S. population overall, there is a greater concentration of minorities living within a 3-mile radius of coal- and oil-fired power plants. In these same areas, the percentage of the population below the poverty line is also higher than the national average. Statistics for other types of energy infrastructure are similar.  

President Bill Clinton issued the original executive order on environmental justice and subsequent laws and orders have instructed federal agencies to include environmental justice in their missions; identify disproportionate impacts of agency policies on these populations; and develop policies and actions to diminish such impacts and include environmental justice in their decision-making processes.  Recent analyses such as those included in the QER suggest that, even after 23 years, there is still considerable room for improvement in meeting the goals articulated by President Clinton in 1994.

EFI principals, working with Congressional partners, were successful in creating a novel loan program for renewable energy projects in tribal lands and Alaskan native communities. EFI will put this commitment to work to improve environmental justice, provide access to electricity, and increase clean energy options to under-served communities.

Initial Projects on Energy for Under-Served and Low-Income Communities

EFI’s first focus will be on Native Americans and Alaska Natives. EFI will write select white papers and meet with stakeholders to discuss and develop projects from several priority options:

 EFI will make underserved communities and energy-related environmental justice issues a major area of analytical inquiry, with specific focus on:

  • Providing electricity and increased clean energy access to Alaska Natives and all Native Americans living on tribal lands.
  • Increasing energy job creation for Native Americans and Alaska Natives, as well as for low-income and minority populations.
  • Supporting energy-related STEM education for Native Americans and Alaska Natives, and minority communities.
  • Transferring knowledge and best practices to local communities.
  • Developing strategies for effective utilization of the new Federal loan program.