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

Tribal Energy Program

Current Energy Supplies and Suppliers

In addition to understanding tribal loads and how they aggregate to the energy bills paid by tribal members and the tribe as a nation, the other set of baseline information that needs to be developed and understood is the cost of those energy supplies and the characteristics (legal and organizational) of the tribe's present energy suppliers.

All tribes have some access to electricity, although all tribal members may not have electric power lines that reach their homes. For the moment, we will discuss only "grid-connected" electric systems, which for this discussion include diesel power stations providing electricity to isolated native communities such as those in Alaska. The use of "stand-alone" systems for remote, isolated loads is a separate topic.

Many tribes, particularly those near urban areas, also have access to natural gas supplies. Bottled gas (propane) supply is also an option in many areas out of reach from the natural gas pipeline system. With only a few exceptions — those tribes located over natural gas reserves — natural gas, like electricity, is purchased from an outside organization.

Obtaining a comprehensive understanding of tribal energy supplies (both electricity and natural gas), the cost of those supplies (both on a monthly basis, and on a per-unit basis), and the characteristics of the organizations providing the energy supplies is critical to establishing the baseline for either energy efficiency improvements or new tribal generation.

To gain this understanding, tribes need to:

  • Find out who your suppliers are (many tribes have more than one electric supplier).

  • Obtain monthly billing records for all the load centers (individual residential or commercial facilities) that are being considered in the strategic energy planning process.

  • Obtain and understand the tariff structure (how the energy is metered and billed). Particularly on the electric side, tariff structures can be quite complex. For instance, large commercial and industrial facilities are often charged separately for their energy use in kilowatt hours (kWh) and peak power demand in kilowatts (kW). Large facilities may also have time-of-day or seasonal variations built into their metering and billing.

This information is fundamental to determining the economics of individual energy efficiency or power production decisions.