Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Second Department

Environmental Analysis

Reader 1

William Ascher

Reader 2

Tanja Srebotnjak

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Rights Information

© 2018 Lauren K D'Souza


Native American reservations in the United States are often located on mineral-rich lands, making them a target for fossil fuel development in already socioeconomically disadvantaged areas. As environmentally damaging as they are, coal and oil industries can bring invaluable jobs and money to isolated reservations, causing tribes to rely on fossil fuels for mere economic survival. In these instances of corporations or the federal government exploiting Native American labor and land, tribes lose the most fundamental principle of tribal governance: tribal sovereignty. Replacing fossil fuels and securing energy independence with a stable, renewable energy source is key to reclaiming that tribal sovereignty. Biomass, a general term for any organic material used as a fuel source, is an often overlooked form of renewable energy to provide for an entire community’s needs. This paper focuses specifically on the 21 tribes in Arizona that can use elements of the local landscape, residues from economic activity like agriculture, or waste from urban areas to power a community-scale biomass plant. The feasibility study for a biomass plant on the Cocopah Reservation, a small and economically poor tribe in southwestern Arizona, determined that the tribe could supply all of its energy needs with a small, 1 MW combustion stoker boiler fed with crop residues from nearby agricultural lands. The levelized cost of electricity for this biomass plant is about $0.2–$0.3/kWh, or one-sixth of electricity rate that the tribe pays from the local utility. The plant would create revenue over its 30-year lifespan that could be fed back into other social service or economic revitalization projects for tribal members. The Cocopah would also benefit from joining with other small and politically isolated tribes to form an intertribal energy consortium that could share administrative and technical expertise in completing feasibility studies or applying for federal assistance.