DOI grant to support pellet feasibility study in New Mexico

By Katie Fletcher | October 22, 2014

Thirteen tribal and mineral development projects in New Mexico, one of which is the investigation into the possibility of a wood pellet plant, were awarded more than $2.8 million in grants by the Department of Interior’s Energy and Mineral Development Program in the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development. Each year the DEMD offers tribes an opportunity to participate in the grant program, which helps meet the requirements set forth by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

The annual program is designed to financially assist tribes and Indian allottees in evaluating their energy and mineral resource potential beneath their lands, said Nedra Darling, spokeswoman for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. “DEMD’s assistance to tribes and allottees in evaluating and developing their energy and mineral resource potential starts at a project’s conception, continues on to assessment of the resource, and culminates in negotiating agreements that lead to development and production.”

These awards were distributed amongst eight tribes after proposals underwent a competitive review system. Ranking criteria includes: resource potential, marketability of the resource, economic benefits produced by the project, applicant’s willingness to develop and commit to the project, as well as the likelihood that the project will be completed, budget completeness and cost reasonability, and appropriateness of the technical proposal and statement of work.

The Pueblo of Acoma, Pueblo of Cochiti, Pueblo of Nambe, Pueblo of Jemez, Pueblo of San Felipe, Pueblo of Zuni, Jicarilla Apache Nation and Navajo Nation will receive individual grants ranging from $40,000 to $1 million. "These grants will go a long way towards supporting tribes in New Mexico as they maximize the use of their natural resources and spur economic development in Native American communities,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.  

One of the projects awarded grant money hopes to evaluate the use of woodland resources with a study to determine if a tribal wood pellet business will lower the cost of wood pellets for tribal members, as well as support sustainable forest management practices. The Pueblo of Zuni received $80,000 to conduct a feasibility study for the establishment of a wood pellet plant on the reservation. Even though tribal members rely on wood for heating during the winter, the current harvesting practices on the reservation are creating resource management problems, so finding another way to manage the material is needed. According to Darling, the Pueblo of Zuni will establish their own plans of investigation, as well as set their own timelines and deadlines for the study.

A wide variety of projects will receive the grant money. Some other projects joining the pellet plant evaluation include a sand and gravel exploration study, a feasibility study for hydroelectric power and the manufacture of adobe bricks. "The smart development of tribal energy and mineral resources benefits Indian Country, New Mexico, and the nation," Udall said