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Lowering Energy Bills in American Indian Households: A Case Study of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe

Lowering Energy Bills in American Indian Households: A Case Study of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe

By the Native American Renewable Energy Education Project (NAREEP)
May 1998

General Findings in Native American Tribes
Rosebud Sioux Case Study
Housing Survey Sample
Energy Efficiency through Rebuild America
Suggestions for Other Tribes

Since the fall of 1997, the Native American Renewable Energy Education Project (NAREEP) has worked with the Rosebud Sioux tribe of South Dakota to improve energy efficiency of buildings on the reservation. The first phase of work was to identify resources available for energy efficiency, to document potential for efficiency in the tribe's housing stock, and to establish a tribal weatherization program sponsored by the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP).

NAREEP is a research, education, and information program that assists Native American communities in pursuing sustainable energy strategies. NAREEP, which began in July 1995, supports Native Americans in gaining greater control over their own energy futures by improving energy efficiency and harnessing renewable energy from sunlight, wind, water, and biomass. NAREEP is a joint project of the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California at Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. NAREEP conducts its work in collaboration with tribal governments, tribal colleges, and tribal organizations.

NAREEP staff member John Elliott describes the first phase of work with Rosebud in his master's project titled Lowering Energy Bills in American Indian Households: A Case Study of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, May 1998, 122 pages.

General Findings in Native American Tribes

Listed below are this study's general demographic findings common to many tribes rather than those specific to Rosebud.

  • The incidence of poverty in tribal areas is significantly greater than in the US population as a whole. Among Native American households in tribal areas, poverty is 1.5 to 2 times greater than among US households in general. Tribal areas have a large number of very poor households, with 26 percent of the population having extremely low incomes. Data for tribal households living near tribal areas indicate that poverty there is less prevalent but more so than in the general US population.
  • According to the 1990 census, there are 740,000 Native Americans living in tribal areas, including 236 federally recognized reservations, 198 Alaska Native villages, and 74 other tribal land groupings. This population of 740,000 Native Americans lives in 234,000 households. An additional 462,000 Native Americans live in 188,000 homes adjacent to tribal areas in counties containing tribal land. These Native Americans living on or near tribal lands total 1.2 million people in 422,000 households, and comprise 60 percent of the entire Native American population. The US Census Bureau estimates that the 1990 census undercounts the total Native American population by 4.6 percent, and populations in tribal areas by 12.6 percent.
  • Many characteristics associated with high-energy expenditures related to housing type, condition, and occupancy are quite prevalent in tribal households. Overcrowding is more than 4 times as prevalent in Native American households compared to all US households (13 compared to 3 percent). Tribal households have especially high incidence of many factors associated with high-energy expenditures compared to all US households, and where data are available, to all US low-income households.
  • The factors that interact to determine household energy expenditure fall into four categories: housing type, housing condition, housing occupancy (overcrowding), and availability of heating energy sources. Housing construction, space conditioning systems, water heating systems, types of major appliances, and fuel prices will bracket a range of energy expenditures for a particular household; however, occupant behavior plays a determining role in how much energy is actually consumed. Generally, Native American households face a substantial burden in paying for household energy bills.
  • Native American households have access to a very different mix of heating energy sources compared to other US populations. Many tribal households use relatively inexpensive wood; however, compared to all US households relatively few have access to inexpensive natural gas.
  • According to the 1989 American Housing Survey (AHS), 17 percent of the 414 tribal households investigated had heating/electrical/structural problems. These problems are extremely rare in the general US population.
  • Native American populations are increasing. The census has recorded a six-fold increase in Native American populations between 1950 and 1990. The increase is attributed primarily to medical and environmental improvements and to a lesser degree to increasing self-identification. In addition, the large growth in Native American populations has occurred mostly on or near tribal areas. Seventy-eight percent of the population growth recorded between 1908 and 1990 occurred in tribal areas.

Rosebud Sioux Case Study

Elliott began working with members of the Rosebud Sioux tribe of South Dakota to explore the problem of high home energy bills. The goal of this work has been to implement a program to lower household energy bills at Rosebud. Elliott's paper presents research conducted as part of this effort and relates lessons learned in approaching that goal. It identifies needs, barriers and opportunities at Rosebud for implementing a residential energy efficiency program. It also gathered baseline data that can be used to identify energy saving measures. The following points summarize the information specific to the Rosebud Sioux tribe that is presented in the paper:

  • The tribal population at Rosebud is growing rapidly and current housing is inadequate, necessitating extensive housing development.
  • Poverty and unemployment at Rosebud are extremely high.
  • Sinte Gleska University, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Utility Commission, and the Rosebud Housing Authority are the primary organizations interested in housing and energy conservation.
  • The Rosebud Housing Authority (RHA) is responsible for most of the housing development and rehabilitation at Rosebud.
  • The housing stock at Rosebud is uniform in construction, half of which consists of scattered site single family houses; this aids in the process of identifying effective energy saving measures.
  • At the time of this paper, the tribe was developing a new housing center and new housing programs under the Native American Housing Assistance Self-Determination Act of 1996 (NAHASDA) that would consolidate existing programs and resources. (Many Indian housing programs are being reorganized as a result of the passage of NAHASDA).
  • The new housing entity, the Sicangu Wicoti Awanykape (SWA Corporation), is better funded, and has more flexibility over the use of funds than did the previous RHA.
  • The tribe decreased the amount it spends on energy subsidies, and is currently spending about $741,000 on energy subsidies, which represents about four percent of the tribe's total housing budget.

Housing Survey Sample

The data collected for this study were analyzed in several ways to identify meaningful groups of homes for analysis. One grouping was identified based on types of space- and water-heating systems found in the homes. Of the 16 homes surveyed, 13 of the homes used propane furnaces and water heaters. The group of 13 homes was used to estimate average energy prices since they have similar heating equipment and account for most of the survey sample. These average prices were used to estimate potential savings from energy saving measures.

These data provide a starting point for deciding appropriate levels of spending on energy efficiency. Using average energy prices for a set of survey homes, several energy saving measures have been identified that can reduce energy bills by an average of 25 percent; these include:

  • Additional weatherization using advanced techniques
  • Installation of low-flow showerheads
  • Installation of anti-convection valves on water heater
  • Installation of water-heater blanket
  • Switch to a more efficient propane water heater
  • Switch to a more efficient refrigerator
  • Switch from an electric to a propane dryer
  • Switch to a dryer with moisture sensing controls
  • Retrofit of two exterior lights with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs)
  • Switch from electric to propane range/oven

Other measures been also been identified that apply to many homes at Rosebud with an annual savings potential of 65 percent. These measures include:

  • Comprehensive weatherization using advanced techniques
  • Fuel switching space- and water-heating systems from electric to propane.

A major finding of this survey is that electrical end uses account for a significant portion of energy bills for some homes at Rosebud. For these homes, energy saving measures related to non-heating electrical end uses would have to be addressed to significantly lower energy bills further. For other homes at Rosebud, especially those with electric baseboard heat and low insulation levels, energy bills can be lowered significantly through weatherization measures using advanced audit techniques and equipment retrofits.

According to George Keller, Director of Housing for the Rosebud tribe, low-flow showerheads were the only measure implemented of those that were recommended.

Energy Efficiency through Rebuild America

In early 1998, the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Utility Commission (RSTUC) signed Rosebud on as a partner in a Department of Energy program called Rebuild America (Rebuild). Rebuild provides a structure for communities to set energy efficiency goals and resources for communities to achieve their goals. The tribe developed an Energy Efficiency Action Plan. It called for energy efficiency activities focused on housing, the Rosebud Casino, the Rosebud Hospital, and buildings associated with Sinte Gleska University.

Suggestions for Other Tribes

The Rosebud Sioux case study provides some general suggestions for other tribes interested in starting a residential energy efficiency program. While every tribe faces different circumstances, the suggestions below provide a starting point from which others may devise an approach to energy efficiency. The evaluation outlined an approach that may be useful for tribes interested in lowering energy bills; it is the following:

Identify data sources. At Rosebud, basic information regarding population size, number of homes, types of housing and past rehabilitation efforts were not organized and readily available. However, the Rosebud Housing Authority did have all of this data and allowed the author to collect and organize the available data. For tribes with IHAs, housing authorities may be a good place to start to collect data regarding household energy bills. Also, LIHEAP offices may have information regarding household energy bills.

Record information about housing construction and past rehabilitation efforts. Information about insulation levels, space conditioning systems, and water heating systems in the tribal housing stock provides a baseline for developing an energy efficiency strategy. These data can be used to estimate the condition of the housing, the extent to which energy efficiency retrofits have already been implemented, and the need for additional energy efficiency measures.

Quantify energy subsidies. The amount that is cost effective for the tribe to spend on energy efficiency will to some extent depend on the amount they are already spending on energy subsidies.

Quantify energy bills. By quantifying summer and winter bills, the tribe can identify priorities for an energy efficiency program. A survey conducted as part of this project provides one approach to quantifying bills. Ideally, information about energy bills can be collected from utility companies or propane/wood distributors.

Take advantage of federal and state resources. The Weatherization Assistance Program is available to tribes in two ways. First, they may receive weatherization services from a regional contractor associated with WAP. In some cases, tribes may be able to train tribal members who can work with regional contractors. Second, tribes may establish their own weatherization program. As part of a program partnership, WAP provides money, training, and an advanced technical package for identifying energy saving measures. Other programs such as REACH, LIHEAP, and other HUD housing rehabilitation programs can also provide resources for energy efficiency. Finally, NAHASDA provides many opportunities for implementing an energy efficiency program, as summarized below.

Take advantage of NAHASDA. NAHASDA establishes predictable funding for housing available to all tribes. For many tribes, NAHASDA may also increase federal funding for housing. By using a block grant approach, NAHASDA allows tribes more flexibility to develop and administer programs that suit their needs. Tribes can take advantage of this major shift in federal housing policy by consolidating housing programs and developing a single clearinghouse for issues related to housing. Tribes can then use a portion of their NAHASDA block grant for energy efficiency activities, and integrate those activities into other housing programs.

Work together. Once all parties interested in residential energy efficiency are identified, establish working groups that can help build consensus around an energy efficiency strategy.

Combine programs and funding streams from different sources. As budgets shrink, many government agencies are more interested in leveraging resources from other sources and are more receptive to tribes' efforts to integrate federal and nonfederal resources. Ongoing federal funding can provide the financial backbone for a program around which less predictable funding, such as foundation grants, can be organized.

Make a plan. By establishing a multi-year energy efficiency plan, a tribe's efforts can be integrated with other tribal programs. The plan can also be useful for setting and achieving goals.