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

Tribal Energy Program

Permitting and Licensing

Any new tribal power generation project will be subject to certain environmental siting and permitting requirements. Permitting includes the granting of permission by tribal and BIA authorities to site the project on tribal lands. Environmental siting requirements typically relate to land-use regulations and air permitting. Larger power generation projects may confront requirements set by the endangered species, wetlands, and historic preservation programs. The trust nature of tribal lands means that significant projects will need to pass through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. For more information, see Regulatory Agencies.

Potential Permitting Barriers

Depending on the technology, environmental permitting (primarily obtaining an emissions permit) is probably the single most arduous and costly task in getting a power generation system online. The most common permitting requirement is an air permit, which is applicable to fossil-fuel-fired power generation technologies. An air permit is often required if the site is located within a non-attainment area. Apply for air permits from the local air resources control board, as needed. Depending on the size, type, and potential impacts of your project, this can take up to six months for technologies having emissions. More information on air permitting and environmental siting is available in the Federal Energy Management Program's Environmental Siting Guide.

Within the tribal framework, power generation system installations are subject to the same permitting and evaluation process as other site or facility modifications. For projects outside of the reservation, the National Electric Code; the National Life-Safety Code; and the International Fuel Gas, Plumbing, Mechanical, Building, and Fire Codes are the key references for local code officials. For the most part, these codes do not address some of the newer DG technologies, such as renewable generation, microturbines and fuel cells. The need for these sorts of reviews and approvals will depend on the tribes laws regarding such issues. Establishing building codes and compliance requirements varies widely throughout Indian country.

Applicable Codes and Standards for Power Generating Systems

Several standards specifically address the installation of power generating systems. Tribes may want to consider adoption or building from the following standards:

  • UL 2200 is a commonly cited reference for combustion engines and gas turbines in stationary power applications. It does not specifically refer to microturbines, but it can be considered to include that technology.

  • NFPA 853 provides for the design, construction, and installation of fuel-cell power plants with a capacity of more than 50 kilowatts (kW). Titled the Standard for the Installation of Fuel Cells, it covers natural gas and a number of other fuel sources.

  • NFPA 37 is the Standard for the Installation and Use of Stationary Combustion Engines and Gas Turbines, and it works in conjunction with UL 2200 to apply to the installation and operation of these CHP technologies. Like UL 2200, it can be extended to microturbines.

  • IEEE 1547 is the Standard for Distributed Resources Interconnected with Electric Power Systems; it addresses technical requirements for the safe interconnection of DG systems to the local electric distribution system.

Overcoming the Barriers

The best way to avoid potential permitting barriers is to understand the requirements your system will need to face. Investigate the environmental siting and permitting requirements early on in your project to avoid setbacks and additional expenses that may be incurred later in the project approval phase. Here are some additional suggestions for avoiding and overcoming potential barriers. When it comes to building codes and inspections, you are most likely to gain the inspector's approval if you or your installer do the following:

  • Follow the National Electrical Code

  • Install pre-engineered, packaged systems

  • Properly brief the inspector on your installation

  • Include a complete set of plans as well as the diagrams that come with the system.

In addition, you should be sure that your system is composed of certified equipment (for example, U.L. certification) and that it complies with local requirements and appropriate technical standards.

For help in overcoming potential air permitting barriers, see the Federal Energy Management Program's Environmental Siting Guide.