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.

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:

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:

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

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.

Page last updated: June 15, 2015