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

Tribal Energy Program

Strategic Energy Planning - Full Process (Printable Version)

This section provides an overview of the strategic energy planning process.

The first step in understanding your energy journey is to envision your destination. Where is it you want to go? What does that place look like? At the same time, take stock of where you are now, to better understand the resources you will need to get to your destination. The difference between these two points, where you are, and where you want to be, defines the work that needs to be done. Energy strategic planning can be a relatively straightforward process, as demonstrated below. However, the work needed to complete a plan may be considerable.

To continue, select a step in the strategic planning process:

Vision Statement

Developing a strategic plan should start with a vision, or goal, in mind. Where is it you want to get to? Developing a tribal energy vision should go hand-in-hand with other tribal objectives, like economic development, job creation, and cultural values.

The first step is to agree within the tribe that energy is an important topic and worth including in the top items requiring the attention of tribal leaders. Energy will not be on the priority list for many tribes, and that is okay. In several regions throughout the United States, intertribal energy collaboration, the formation of tribal cooperatives, or other business relationships may make the most sense. But for tribes that believe they are overly dependent on energy imports from outside, that have economically developable local energy resources (renewable and fossil), and have the interest and commitment to change their energy future, the opportunities are many.

For tribes committed to securing their energy future, it is important to develop a common tribal vision. There is no prescription for the process to develop a tribal energy vision. The vision does not need to be static over time, but unlike the strategic plan itself (which is often an iterative process), the vision should "place a marker" on where the tribe wants to be, in say 5, 10, or 20 years, with respect to its energy situation. The vision should be a statement, or resolution, approved by the Tribal Council following active input from the broader tribal community.

Several things must emerge from this process.

  • The vision should set the policy direction for tribal action

  • A tribal champion should emerge, empowered and supported to lead the strategic energy planning process forward.

  • The vision should be specific enough to set clear direction, but should not be prescriptive in the methods used to achieve the vision (this is the job of the strategic plan itself).

Examples of possible tribal energy vision statements might include:

  • Establish tribal energy independence, self-sufficiency, and security through development of indigenous resources, capabilities, and institutions within the next generation.

  • From the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority:

    "To provide electric, natural gas, water, wastewater treatment and related services at competitive prices, while contributing to the economy of the Navajo Nation, consistent with the improvement of the health and wealth of the residents of the Navajo Nation, and the employment of the Navajo people."

  • From the Hopi Hopit Potskwaniat — Energy Related Goals:

    "To provide affordable and environmentally safe energy for local residents and businesses for the purpose of economic self-sufficiency."

  • From the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, Tribal Legal Code, Title 300 (PDF 239 KB) (Download Adobe Reader):

    "The purpose for which the Utility is organized is to provide an entity through with the Tribe may exercise all natural gas utility, electrical utility, other energy utility, water and sewer utility, telecommunications utility, and mineral use and development functions for the benefit of the Tribe, and to regulate all such utility matters of third parties on the Reservation."

  • From the charter of the Aha Macav Power System (AMPS), the tribal utility for the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe:

    "The Fort Mojave Tribal Council hereby finds and declares that the creation of AMPS is necessary and desirable in order to promote the development of the Tribe's resources, to promote the prudent economic vitality of the Reservation and surrounding communities, to protect the health and welfare of tribal members and to provide employment and training opportunities for tribal members."


The importance of identifying a tribal energy champion cannot be understated. As the number of opportunities and challenges in Indian country expand, any progress that will be made in initially developing, then later implementing, a tribal energy plan requires the dedicated leadership and continuity provided by the tribal energy champion (or champions, as the case may be).

Energy planning and implementation is a long-term, multi-year process. Continuity over time is absolutely required for success, whether the focus is on cost reduction through the use of efficiency measures or electricity independence through new generation. The seeds of energy decisions often take many years to bear fruit. The steady, patient, yet persistent hand of a tribal energy champion is indispensable.

Like all true champions, tribal energy champions are not often appointed, but emerge through their innate interest and hence commitment to leadership. Only you can identify your tribal energy champion. Look for the interest, the commitment to follow-through, and the leadership, and then surround this person with expertise and support.

Energy Needs and Forecasts

Any form of energy planning—whether it be for an individual building, a tribe, or a country—necessarily starts with understanding the building's, tribe's or country's energy needs. What is the load? What are the services that are being provided or need to be provided? How much is being provided today? By what energy sources? And finally, how are these energy needs expected to grow in the future, as population expands and as local economic activities develop?

As the strategic plan begins to take shape and the focus on specific options narrows, more detailed load assessments may need to be done. At this stage, the objective is to understand the big picture, and be able to answer the following basic questions. Developing answers to these questions will help the tribe understand the present "as-is" situation, or energy baseline. The gap between the energy baseline and the vision needs to be filled through the action of the strategic plan. Every journey has a beginning and an end. Answering these questions helps define the beginning, the energy baseline.

  • Who are your current energy service providers?

  • How are energy supplies presently distributed to the tribe?

  • Are both gas and electricity available?

  • How much of each is used on a monthly basis (monthly load profiles for tribe as a whole or for major individual loads).

  • What is the per-unit cost of various energy supplies? What is the electricity tariff structure? How is the tribe's energy use being metered?

  • How do you expect the tribal load or major loads of concern to increase in the future? Will there be a concentration of new load or will it be dispersed throughout the tribe?

  • What are the economic development interests of the tribe that would impact the need for additional energy supplies?

Developing the answers to these questions builds the foundation upon which new energy planning takes place. It is a truism in today's energy economy that it is often cheaper to save energy than to build new generation capacity to meet increasing needs. Establishing an awareness of where and how major energy costs are impacting the tribe is the first step. That step will also help the tribe to define the energy efficiency opportunities that should be integrated into the strategic energy plan.

Energy Resource Options

The next dimension of strategic energy planning, after establishing the energy baseline, is to evaluate your energy resource options. As with the energy baseline work, the level of detail on energy resource options can be extensive. At this initial planning level, the objective is to establish the primary energy resource options that are of interest to the tribe. Depending on the starting point of the tribe in your energy planning, a more detailed evaluation of your resource options will likely be necessary.

At this point it is valuable to write down the obvious resources that will need to be considered. Equally important is to screen out likely losers so that valuable effort is not devoted to dead-end options. However, it is good at this stage to be more inclusive. If the opportunity for a particular energy resource is positive but unknown (e.g., biomass residue), it is better to leave it on the list for further evaluation, rather than strike it from further consideration prematurely.

Depending on your level of energy awareness, it may be helpful to review the resource assessment and energy technology material in this Guide to help you identify your primary energy options.

Preliminary Choices

Your preliminary assessment of resource options, coupled with an understanding of tribal loads, can be combined to suggest possible technical solutions.

On the renewable generation side, this might include installation of one or more wind turbines, if there is a good wind resource, or investigations into geothermal, hydroelectric, or solar power.

On the energy efficiency side, the options may include upgrading lighting in commercial buildings, adding insulation and weather-stripping, installing window improvements and shading, and implementing a load management system.

On the institutional side, important options to consider may include building on existing supplier relationships, creating new tribal organizations, identifying "windows of opportunity" such as re-negotiating rights-of-way, or obtaining access to preferential power from federal hydroelectric facilities.

As the strategic plan begins to develop, placing considerable effort in evaluating your energy options may be worthwhile. A more detailed discussion of options analysis can be found in the "Evaluating Options" section of this Guide. As stated previously, strategic planning is often an iterative process, and most of this iteration is focused on options analysis. As more information becomes available to your tribe, the preferred options may change.

Setting Priorities

The list of possible technical and institutional options is likely to be large — larger than what can be effectively implemented by the tribe. As the options are initially identified, then become further refined, it is important to evaluate those emerging options against the tribe's priorities. Asking the following questions will help further bound the problem:

  • What are the job creation benefits?

  • What are the economic benefits?

  • What are the environmental or cultural impacts?

  • Are there particular funding opportunities that impact the priorities?

  • What are the institutional development requirements? Is one institutional approach more likely to succeed than another?

  • Are there case studies or examples that have been implemented by other tribes?

  • What external support is available?

These questions and others will help move the strategic planning process from a strictly technical evaluation, to a more holistic understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing your tribe.

Writing the Strategic Plan

Armed with a vision statement, a champion, information on energy needs and forecasts, an understanding of resource options, technology preferences, and an overlay of tribal priorities, it becomes a relatively straightforward process to define and write down the tribe's strategic plan.


  • A strategic plan is a living document. If circumstances change, change the plan.

  • Renewable energy technologies are rapidly evolving. What may not be economic today may be the solution of choice tomorrow.

  • Different technical solutions often call for different institutional implementation arrangements. Multiple approaches are acceptable if the resources are available to pursue multiple options. However, be careful of getting spread too thin.

  • While it is the champion's job to keep the process and opportunities moving forward, there are extensive resources and expertise available to the tribe through several federal programs.

The strategic plan should include the following elements:

  • The vision statement

  • A description of the options and projects that appear to be technically and tribally viable.

  • A discussion of the preferred institutional arrangements and the activities necessary to put those institutions in place.

  • Key personnel and necessary external support.

  • A time line for implementation.

  • A budget.