U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Tribal Energy Program

Aha Macav Power Service

Aha Macav Power Service (AMPS) is an electric utility wholly owned and operated by the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe. The Fort Mojave Reservation covers 22,820 acres in parts of three states (Arizona, California, and Nevada) along the Colorado River. The tribe's headquarters are in Needles, California.

In the late 1980s, the tribe commissioned a utility management consultant to study the feasibility of starting a tribal utility. The consultant determined that the tribe could start its own utility for roughly $2.5 to $3 million. Based on this information and the tribe's available financial resources, the Tribal Council made the decision to proceed with formation of a tribally-operated electric utility. The name given to the new utility, Aha Macav, translates to "People Along the River."

AMPS was created in 1991 to improve the economic situation on the reservation and increase tribal self-determination. Under its tribal charter, AMPS would remain separate from FMTUA. The utility management consultant that conducted the initial feasibility study was invited by the tribe to manage the new utility.

The AMPS Charter enumerates the purpose and power of AMPS, its assets, and the makeup of the Board of Directors. The Bylaws enumerate the Board's duties, qualifications, and its general composition and responsibilities. The Bylaws also specify the duties of the Chairperson, Vice Chairperson, Secretary, and Treasurer of the Board. The Charter and Bylaw were amended in 1992 to provide for a Tribal Council member to sit on the AMPS Board and to provide for alternate members to the Board. See the 1992 version of the AMPS Charter. (MS Word 33 KB)

According to the AMPS Charter, the Tribal Council acts as an advisory board to the AMPS Board of Directors. The Tribal Council's purpose is to provide information to and advise the Board regarding political, cultural, and social issues that concern the tribe and its members with regards to the operation of AMPS. Thus, the Tribal Council acts as a form of public utilities commission. Changes in electric rates must be approved by the Tribal Council. Before changes in rates are instituted, the Tribal Council will hear any comments by tribal members. This gives everyone an opportunity to comment on rate changes before a non-partisan third party.

The first area served by AMPS was a new residential development on the reservation, called Mesquite Creek. With the decision to begin developing their Nevada lands, the tribe began the search for a power supplier. After failing to secure power from three potential suppliers, the tribe decided to supply power to the site themselves. Fort Mojave Reservation also had considerable undeveloped acreage that was expensive to develop. In part, AMPS was formed largely because the tribe decided it wanted to supply power to those areas not served by the other local utilities.

The remaining residents and businesses on the reservation were already being served by two other utilities. A small tribal village and the tribal headquarters on reservation land located within the city of Needles were served by the City of Needles Department of Public Utilities, while portions of the reservation in Arizona were served by Mohave Electric Cooperative. To compete with those utilities, AMPS had to build its own distribution lines in those service territories, but AMPS was able to provide power at lower cost, yielding an economic benefit to the tribe in terms of savings on utility bills.

Today, AMPS serves nearly all of the electric customers on its reservation, including the Avi Kwa Ame Farms (AKA Farms), a large tribal farm that relies on electric power for irrigation pumping. The Mesquite Creek development has grown to include 105 homes, and a residential development in Nevada, called Desert Springs, includes 162 homes. Its total electrical load is about 10 megawatts. AMPS purchases its power from Arizona Public Service and from federal hydropower sources.

Factors that led to the development of AMPS include:

Circumstances which aided in the development of AMPS include:

Important aspects of AMPS success include:

Looking back on the experience of creating AMPS, the tribal members involved would suggest the following:

  • Take sufficient time to make the transition to tribal operations.

  • Give sufficient thought to the financial end of the transition — AMPS situation was unique in that most of the financial assistance sought was for the purpose of constructing the Aví Hotel and Casino. But the casino construction loan was not approved until the lender saw evidence of the ability to provide electrical power to the casino site.

  • Do not use a significant proportion of the tribe's financial reserves in the transition.

Note: Much of the information provided in this case study was derived from Tribal Authority Process Case Studies: The Conversion of On-Reservation Electric Utilities to Tribal Ownership and Operation, a report developed by the NEOS Corporation and written by Richard Milward (now of Global Energy Partners) and Jack Whittier (now of McNeil Technologies) for the Western Area Power Administration.