Should Tribal Access to Electricity be a Right or a Privilege?

Authors: Kathleen M. Saul, Ph.D.

Disciplines: Economics, Energy, Environmental Studies, Mathematics, Native American Studies, Philosophy, Political Science and Public Administration

Themes: Community Development, Energy, Environmental Justice, Health and Wellness

Tribes: Umatilla

Fourteen percent of households on tribal lands lack access to electricity—ten times the national average of 1.4%.  Of those with access, many rely on car batteries or diesel generators to supply the electricity that runs refrigerators, lights, televisions, washers and dryers, and even small businesses.  Remote areas of reservations lack connections to the electric grid that powers most of the United States.  This case examines the dilemma facing one resident of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation as she ponders installing solar panels on or near her trailer.  She will need to invest a significant amount of money in the project.  Do her neighbors have a right to the electricity she generates, or is electricity access a privilege available only to those who can pay for that access?