Seneca Nation continues quest for energy independence
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TRIBAL ALERT | California Energy Commission funding opportunities for tribes

The California Energy Commission (CEC) sponsored a workshop in Sacramento on May 14, 2019 to outline the current funding opportunities for California tribes and continue their initiative of facilitating a dialogue between the CEC, other California state agencies and California tribal leadership. The meeting was a product of comments received at the firm’s November meeting and was the second of such meetings facilitated by the CEC. In addition to Baker Tilly’s tribal services team, five tribal organizations and a handful of various state agency representatives were in attendance and an additional ten tribal organizations participated remotely.

Programs discussed included the Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC), various renewable/alternative fuel focused vehicle and related infrastructure programs, the Renewable Energy Agriculture Program, geothermal grant and loan programs and the Tribal Government Challenge Planning program.

Grant program updates

EPIC is a mature program and does not appear to have undergone any significant changes for the next round of funding. Around $130 million in funding is expected to be available primarily for research and development related activities. The funding for this program is intended for energy efficiency, renewable energy, integration of renewables and a few other purposes, prioritized respectively. As it was referenced multiple times by the Commission, solar plus storage projects are likely to be more attractive projects to consider when developing strategic energy initiatives. The EPIC program should be of significant importance to tribes that have previously executed energy strategic planning or feasibility studies.

There were multiple renewable and alternative fuel vehicle programs discussed including one for hydrogen fuel cell stations for which 35 more stations are needed to reach the state’s goal. The California Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Project (CALeVIP) program was also discussed, which is a first-come-first-serve program that periodically allocates funding on a geographic basis for the construction of EV charging stations. New CALeVIP funding for 2019 includes the areas of Sacramento, Northern California, Central Coast and Central Valley, which may contain one or multiple counties.

The Renewable Energy for Agriculture Program and geothermal programs had very brief mentions with no specific updates on funding available in 2019.

The most interesting opportunity discussed was the Tribal Government Challenge Planning Grants. This is a one-time opportunity funded by leftover American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds. The official solicitation is still in flux but is set to be released in fall 2019 with award notices in winter 2019. Key points of the program are as follows:

  • $2 million in total funding which is exclusively available to tribal governments
  • $150,000 to $250,000 per project which may change subject to the comment process
  • Only planning activities are eligible and implementation activities are not (this was heavily emphasized)
  • The intent of this program is to set up tribes for follow-up implementation funding
  • Projects must be completed in 12-16 months
  • Projects must produce deliverables that are replicable by other tribes and should help the State of California reach their energy goals
  • The CEC has no clear idea of how the funds should be used so nearly all energy planning related activities will likely be eligible for funding, subject to a competitive scoring process

Non-energy related funding opportunities were also discussed, which included around $30 million in grant funding available to California tribes with less than 350 gaming machines. The solicitation is expected to occur on a similar timeframe to the Tribal Government Challenge Planning Grants but the funding will be available for any use except gaming or per capita payments. There is also a potential for rural broadband funding pending the comment process on proposed decision 11-11-007 currently in front of the California Public Utilities Commission.

Comments are being requested on the above funding opportunities and the workshop in general. Also, recommendations on how to obtain tribal demographic data to be used in the CalEnviroScreen, which determines “disadvantaged” communities for various State funding opportunities, have also been requested. There was no discussion of the next workshop or meeting but the CEC appears to be genuinely open to ideas from tribes and vehemently requested tribes submit comments by June 14, 2019.

Solicitation process

The CEC provided an overview of the solicitation process and provided a few tips for successful applications. These include:

  • Submit on time – Applications even one minute late of the deadline are automatically excluded
  • Use “game theory” for scored solicitations – Hit all points in the solicitation and pick up all the easy points you can
  • Request a debrief – After funds are awarded, tribes may discuss why they either were or were not awarded funds for a particular solicitation

General thoughts

The workshop was informative and primarily based on dialogue with tribes. Most energy specific funding opportunities do not have significant or specific tribe carve outs but “disadvantaged areas” are given priority for all California grant funding. Additionally, there was no specific funding or official preference mentioned for wildfire related energy resilience projects discussed at this meeting.

Unfortunately, how these events will occur going forward was not mentioned, though the CEC has developed a mailing list so that tribal governments can stay up-to-date with current happenings, which can be accessed at www.energy.ca.gov/tribal/.

For more information on how to take advantage of the growing support for tribal energy initiatives by the State of California, contact a Baker Tilly tribal services team member.

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