Seneca Nation continues quest for energy independence



Seneca Nation of Indians, “Keeper of the Western Door” and the largest of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, is built upon three pillars: security, prosperity and the independence of the Nation. Over the last few decades, they've experienced rising energy costs, which were unsustainable. Seneca Nation had to do something to control their destiny.  

Two of their priority goals are to achieve energy independence and rate parity across all territories through energy sustainability and utilizing green energy. To do so, the Nation needed more control over the supply and distribution of energy by installing renewables wherever feasible to reduce their carbon footprint. The plans to alter current infrastructure led the Nation to experience major financing roadblocks and internal challenges.

The Seneca Nation sought Baker Tilly’s tribal energy consultants for development of a strategic energy plan. Among a variety of initiatives identified, key developments included a utility organization and various technology deployments including a wind turbine, solar array and natural gas distribution project.

Baker Tilly solution

Working closely with the Nation, Baker Tilly’s tribal services team members worked with a number of strategic energy and organizational planning grants from both the Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Interior (DOI). The Nation needed “boots on the ground” to achieve its sustainability goals, which led to the creation of a tribal utility in 2011. It took nearly 10 years to develop the internal capacity to establish Seneca Energy, LLC

Following the creation of the tribal utility, a number of energy independence initiatives rapidly developed. Working closely with Seneca Nation and Seneca Energy, the team advised on the following elements:

  • Collaborated on creating the Nation’s utility organization
  • Performed feasibility study on wind, solar and micro-grid development
  • Helped with sit selection for the projects
  • Developed and secured the funding structure for the wind and solar projects
  • Developed and executed request for proposal to obtain construction partners
  • Helped negotiate construction contracts
  • Oversaw construction progress on projects
  • Collaborated with Seneca Energy to select the right utility software to manage operations

Outcome

The Seneca Nation has made strides in their quest for energy independence. Utilizing Baker Tilly’s advisory services and applying grant programs to finance projects, renewable energy projects have become a reality. Today, the Nation produces over 40 percent of their energy through renewable resources.

Key projects include:

  • The creation of a 1.5 mega watts (MW) wind turbine in the Cattaraugus Territory, which has produced 4.3 million kilowatt hours (kWH) to date and has aided in rate parity for residents
  • The development of a 2 MW solar array in the Allegany Territory, which is one of the largest tribal owned solar developments in the U.S. (Learn more here >)
  • The audit and initial planning to get control of the natural gas distribution system. This will eventually lead to owning the distribution system and tapping into the interstate supply line

Project timeline

These energy projects have resulted in greater control over the Nation’s energy in both supply and distribution. The greater control has allowed for reduced costs, rate parity, consumption of clean energy and the creation of jobs for Seneca members. The Nation will continue moving in the direction of energy independence. President Gates stated that there is always more that we can do. “The very ground that we stand on is sacred and we have to always remember that – to protect and preserve for future generations.

For more information on this topic, or to learn how Baker Tilly specialists can help, contact our team.