Since the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in August of 2022, opportunities for renewable energy project development on tribal lands have expanded immensely.1 The most helpful place to begin exploring grant and financing options for tribal communities is the Department of Energy’s (DOE) website which provides a table of ongoing, future, and past funding and incentives for tribal energy development directly from the DOE or from other federal agencies and entities (including non-profits).2 Below are several key examples of agencies and nonprofits that provide broad funding for tribal communities looking to begin or continue solar energy project development.
One of the most straightforward ways for tribal communities to secure funding directly from the federal government for renewable energy project development, including solar, is the DOE’s Tribal Energy Loan Guarantee Program (TELGP).3 TELGP was established with the goal of prioritizing tribal ownership of energy projects constructed on their land allowing the local community to maximize its benefits from the energy production and project revenues. 4 TELGP is broad in the kind of project it funds, offering grants for smaller renewable energy projects like microgrids and bioenergy projects, in addition to wind and solar.5 TELGP has also recently broadened its basic funding capacity. Since the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, TELGP’s budget has increased 10-fold from $2 billion to $20 billion, allowing for direct payments to tribes without tribes needing to go through tax equity structures.6 In addition, through TELGP funds, tribes can get direct subsidies for technologies they use for renewable energy projects on their land or projects constructed by the tribal government outside of their land.7 TELGP is an extremely attractive option for lenders, in that it can provide debt for up to 90% against the project, meaning that a lender need only put up a minimum of 10% of the funds.8 The DOE provides a thorough description of eligibility information, application requirements, the evaluation process, and fees and expenses in its Loan Guarantee Solicitation Announcement.9 This is a great resource for both tribal community members as well as potential private lenders looking to fund a renewable energy project on tribal land and take advantage of the associated tax benefits.
Another great option for tribal communities and lenders looking to fund solar projects, among other renewable energy source projects, is the Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund (TSAF), operated through GRID Alternatives.10 GRID Alternatives is a non-profit organization that aims to build “community-powered solutions to advance economic and environmental justice through renewable energy.”11 GRID launched the TSAF in 2018 to “help tribal communities across the United States achieve their renewable energy goals, while training tribal members to enter the solar workforce.”12 TSAF provides grants for the development of solar projects specifically in tribalcommunities.13 TSAF grant money comes from GRID which, in turn, raises money through a combination of Federal Government grants, state-level grants, and private donations.14 Different kinds of funding and programs offered through TSAF include grants, pure loans, loan grants, loan guarantee programs, tax credits, and technical assistance.15 The ‘Tribal Solar Gap Funding’ is an example of a grant provided by the TSAF and is accepting applications in late Spring of 2023 for projects with a foreseeable completion date of September 30, 2023.16
Another agency-operated funding option is the Energy and Mineral Development Program Grant (‘the EMDP Grant’) established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).17 The EMDP Grant“ provides the opportunity for Tribes to receive financial assistance to evaluate the energy and mineral resource potential of their lands through its grants.”18 The EMDP grant is focused on evaluation and expertise resources, providing services such as resource assessment, exploration studies, feasibility studies, market studies, engineering studies, and economic evaluation.19 The EMDP Grant is a great option for tribal communities seeking to understand the potential for energy resource development on their land more deeply. The Grant is not limited to renewable energy project development, as it is also available for tribes looking to develop natural gas, coal, and uranium sources.20 The following are several examples of projects and assessments carried out through EMDP Grant funding: $140,000 for the Southern Ute Reservation in Colorado which funded an assessment that identified options for using solar resources for renewable energy; $198,135 for the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana used to evaluate the potential for a distributed network of residential and community solar rooftop installations and to conduct a feasibility analysis for the development of wind generation; and $81,625 for the Mescalero Reservation in New Mexico, used to explore a solar energy project and potentially reducing dependence upon costly, fossil-fuel-reliant grid connectivity.21
Finally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides grants and loans as part of the “Rural Energy for America Program.”22 The purpose of the program is to provide “guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for renewable energy systems or to make energy efficiency improvements.”23 This program was not specifically set up for tribal communities, however, they are often eligible for funding for small and large solar generation projects. The loan guarantees up to 75% of project funding and grants can provide up to 40% of the total project cost.24 Private lenders can “establish and justify the guaranteed loan term based on the use of guaranteed loan funds, the useful economic life of the assets being financed and those used as collateral, and the borrower’s repayment ability.”25 More information about the relevant interest rates and applicable fees can be found here.
In summary, the Federal Government provides a variety of loan and grant opportunities for both tribal communities directly and private lenders looking to help fund renewable energy project development on tribal lands. Opportunities for funding and tax benefits related to such project production have increased immensely since the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in August of 2022, which allocated huge funds for renewable energy development and created generous incentives for investors and lenders.26 If there were ever a time to capitalize on government funding for renewable energy projects, that time is now!
–Maya Benatar with contributions by Jack Jacobs, Managing Partner, Cleantech Law Partners
1 “Tribal Energy.” Energy.gov, https://www.energy.gov/lpo/tribal-energy.
2 “Ongoing Funding Opportunities.” Energy.gov, https://www.energy.gov/indianenergy/ongoing-funding-
3 “Tribal Energy.” Energy.gov, https://www.energy.gov/lpo/tribal-energy.
9 U.S. Department of Energy. Department of Energy, 2022, LOAN GUARANTEE SOLICITATION
ANNOUNCEMENT: FEDERAL LOAN GUARANTEES FOR TRIBAL ENERGY DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS.
10 “Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund: About the Fund.” Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund, https://tribalsolar.org/about/.
11 “Mission and History.” GRID Alternatives, https://gridalternatives.org/who-we-are/mission-history.
13 “Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund: About the Fund.” Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund, https://tribalsolar.org/about/.
14 “Mission and History.” GRID Alternatives, https://gridalternatives.org/who-we-are/mission-history.
15 “Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund: About the Fund.” Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund, https://tribalsolar.org/about/.
17 “Energy and Mineral Development Program (EMDP) Grant.” U.S. Department of the Interior: Indian Affairs,
21 “Past Funded EMDP Grant Projects.” Indian Affairs, https://www.bia.gov/service/grants/emdp/past-funded-emdp-
22 “Rural Energy for America Program Renewable Energy Systems & Energy Efficiency Improvement Guaranteed
Loans & Grants.” Rural Development, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/energy-
26 U.S. Departmentof Energy. Department of Energy, 2022, LOAN GUARANTEE SOLICITATION
ANNOUNCEMENT: FEDERAL LOAN GUARANTEES FOR TRIBAL ENERGY DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS.