Renewable Energy and American Federalism: The State’s Influence in Tribal Wind and Solar Development

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Many tribal lands across the western United States (US) are rich in wind and solar energy resources. Tribal nations’ harnessing of their lands’ wind and solar potential presents opportunities for community and economic development. However, the American Federalist system curbs tribes’ right to self-determination in the context of renewable energy. In the Federalist system, tribal nations are legally subject to the US federal government’s authority but exempt from states’ authority because of tribal sovereignty. As a result, the literature has focused on the federal influence on tribal energy endeavors. This paper spotlights the role of states: I examine how state energy policy influences tribal wind and solar development. Though independent, tribes are affected by state energy policies as each state governs its electricity grid and market. In my thesis, I complete a case study of tribal wind and solar energy development in the context of Montana’s and California’s state energy policies. These two case studies vary greatly in the degree to which each state forwards a clean energy transition through regulation and market incentives, also known as the “aggressiveness” of the state’s energy policy. Through interviews, policy review, and surveying documentation of tribal energy projects, I examine how each state’s renewable portfolio policies, net energy metering, interconnection regulations, tax incentives, and grant and loan programs have impacted tribal wind and solar efforts. As a result, I prove that tribes in states with more aggressive renewable energy policies have greater resources and opportunities to enter the renewable energy market. More critically, I find that tribal circumstances are often neglected in state policies, and consequently many state energy programs and incentives are out of tribal entities’ reach. Moving forward, states must work to consider tribal circumstances and ensure tribal inclusion in all state energy policies to ensure equitable access to the nation’s growing renewable energy market.


Type of resource text
Date created June 2020


Author Givens, Maeve Fitzgerald
Primary advisor Cain, Bruce
Degree granting institution Stanford University, Fisher Family Honors Program in Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law


Subject Civil and Environmental Engineering
Subject Democracy Development and the Rule of Law
Subject Freeman Spogli Institute
Subject tribal lands
Subject renewable energy development
Subject state energy policy
Subject wind
Subject solar
Subject School of Engineering
Subject development
Subject Federalism
Genre Thesis

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Givens, Maeve Fitzgerald. (2020). Renewable Energy and American Federalism: The State’s Influence in Tribal Wind and Solar Development. Stanford Digital Repository. Available at:


Stanford University, Fisher Family Honors Program in Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. (CDDRL)

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