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In California, rooftop solar has largely been a success under the Million Solar Roofs Initiative (SB 1, 2006). Senate Bill No.1 includes the California Solar Initiative, an incentive program that is run by investor-owned utilities, and the New Solar Homes Partnership, which supports solar energy on new homes.  However, many Tribal citizens have not taken advantage of the financial incentive programs at the state, county, and local levels.  One of the reasons may have been outreach and misconceptions about Tribal citizens’ ability to participate in the state’s solar incentive programs.

Although Tribal governments are not able to take advantage of the tax incentives offered by state and federal programs, since they are not subject to state and federal taxes, Tribal citizens can and should take advantage of the solar incentives offered by the state and federal programs.  Tribal members are subject to federal income taxes and many are subject to state income taxes if they work away from their home reservation. 

Many tax advantages are transferrable to solar companies if a homeowner chooses to lease, rather than buy solar for their homes—a strategy seldom used by Tribal homeowners.  In addition, there are a host of rebate programs for customers of major utilities, including PG&E, SDG&E, and Southern California Edison, which can include Tribal members, tribal governments and their various agencies and departments.

Although many of the incentive programs have reached their budget limits and the net energy metering cap for many in California has been reached, Tribal governments and their departments can serve as an information and resource center for Tribal members to take advantage of these programs as they become reinitiated in the future, which is likely given California’s aggressive goals for renewable energy.  In addition, Tribal governments can incorporate solar into their low income housing projects funded through their Tribal governments.  Various federal programs offer funding for solar development, including the Tribal Energy Program and programs under the BIA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The Bishop Paiute Tribe is a great example of such an effort, where the Tribal community paired with a nonprofit organization to take advantage of the Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) program, followed by funding and technical assistance from the Department of Energy to provide over 50 homes with solar systems.

Gabriela Rios is an attorney with Procopio's Native American Law Practice Group and citizen of the Cahuilla Band of Indians. She focuses her practice on advising tribal clients on a variety of issues regarding governance, environmental permitting, and contracts.

Ted Griswold is a Partner at Procopio and head of its Native American Law Practice Group, focusing on Native American governments and tribal land issues including self determination compacts and contracts, fee to trust applications, land and natural resource planning, tribal code and ordinance development, leasing, tribal property clean up, federal permitting, water supply development and protection, water quality, stormwater plans, and tribal cultural resource protections and policies