Indigenous innovation is reshaping the burgeoning clean energy industry and empowering native communities in the process. Seneca Solar, a climate consultancy and solar developer wholly owned by the Seneca Nation, is expanding its strategic partnership with Alternative Energy Development Group (AEDG), a developer of commercial and industrial clean energy projects, to advance renewable energy developed and controlled by Native communities.
The mission of Seneca Solar is to profitably and equitably deliver innovative climate solutions that heal the Earth. The expanded partnership with AEDG is dedicated to reversing the extractive model of energy development on Native lands so these communities can gain energy sovereignty through participation in the clean-energy economy.
“Values-aligned partners like AEDG are helping Seneca Solar rapidly deploy renewable energy projects at speed and scale," Matt Renner, vice president of business development at Seneca Solar, told TriplePundit. “We see an opportunity for unprecedented collaboration between the renewable energy sector and Native communities — in the U.S. and around the world — to build renewable energy projects for the benefit of historically underserved communities and all future generations."
In the past, energy development on Native lands has mostly been extractive. Polluting fossil fuel power plants were sited in Native communities with little cleanup. Even with renewable energy development, ownership and other financial benefits were reserved for developers, leaving Native communities on the sidelines of the clean-energy economy. "The expanded partnership [with AEDG] will help build the capabilities of Seneca Solar so we can support more Native communities in developing and owning renewable energy projects,” Renner said.
In collaboration with Native communities and partners, Seneca Solar is flipping the old, extractive model of energy development to focus on equitable outcomes for Native people.
“Most developers who engage with Native communities are focused on profit and volume above empowerment of the communities they work with,” Renner told us. “We’re offering a new way of deploying renewable energy that benefits Native communities, leveraging the opportunities under the Inflation Reduction Act and the Biden administration’s Justice40 initiative.”
Seneca Solar aspires to engage in collaborative, fair partnerships that create real community benefit, as determined by the communities it works with, Renner said. Opportunities are presented upfront, with Native communities prioritized and included in negotiations as partners in development. Equity ownership and other financial options and benefits are available to Native communities, creating long-term value.
Energy sovereignty refers to the right of communities to make their own decisions about energy generation, distribution, and consumption in a way that is appropriate for them — something that Native communities have not had opportunities to do in the past. About 14 percent of households on U.S. Native lands don’t even have access to electricity.
“Because energy affects everything we do, it is a critical component of community sovereignty. Achieving energy sovereignty will help Native communities gain greater self-sufficiency and prosperity for all their people,” Renner said. “Participating in the clean-energy economy will allow them to enjoy the financial and environmental benefits of renewable energy, which have previously been largely unavailable to them.”
Native communities, since the first days of the Industrial Revolution, have warned against the destruction and pollution of our natural surroundings. By positioning itself as a leader in the clean energy sector, Seneca Solar stands to promote planet-friendly concepts that can foster a wider environmental awareness.
“At Seneca Solar, we look beyond the standard approaches to energy projects to add features that benefit people and heal the Earth — we call these ‘plus-ones,’" Renner explained. "These can include dual-use solar and agricultural projects, known as agrivoltaics, which can be beneficial to farms and can incorporate regenerative agriculture to restore soil and habitats. Beyond clean-energy projects, we also offer support with climate change mitigation and adaptation planning, site remediation, biodiversity support, natural regeneration techniques for clean air, carbon sequestration, and habitat restoration. We seek to maximize the community and environmental benefits of each project.”
Through its energy sovereignty-centered mission, Seneca Solar has the potential to share the Seneca Nation’s environmental values and wisdom of the natural world.
“Indigenous cultures around the world value their relationship with the natural world and respect the natural balance that sustains life,” Renner said. “Native communities possess wisdom and expertise but have historically been left out of discussions and efforts to heal the Earth, and they have experienced generations of oppression and loss. Restoring balance requires community with respect, cooperation and peacefulness. “
In its search for equitable climate solutions, Seneca Solar is rectifying historical injustices and freeing Indigenous communities from the yokes of extractive energy development models, positioning native groups across the nation to achieve energy sovereignty and more.
Image courtesy of Alternative Energy Development Group
Patrick is a freelance journalist who writes what the robots can't. Based in Syracuse, New York, Patrick seeks to uplift, inform, and inspire readers with stories centered on environmental activism, social justice, and arts and music. He enjoys collecting books and records, writing prose and poetry, and playing guitar.