Monday, April 21, 2008

Wind Generation From Tribal Lands

The Rosebud Sioux turbine paved the way for the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota to commission a 65-kilowatt turbine in 2005. Tribal lands are rich in wind and it is estimated that the wind energy potential from reservations in the northern Great Plains is enough to power about 50 million homes annually. Tribal leaders are looking to wind-powered electricity generation to forge a renewable energy economy. Since 1995, a coalition of Great Plains tribes known as the Intertribal Council On Utility Policy (COUP) has worked to generate jobs and new revenue streams through tribal-owned wind energy projects. These utility-scale turbines are arrayed along federal transmission lines that carry hydroelectric power from the mainstem Missouri River dams. This will allow the tribes to sell surplus power to the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), markets and transmits electricity from federal hydroelectric power plants.

Persistent droughts throughout the West have reduced federal hydropower production nearly 50 percent, so WAPA has filled the shortfall with lignite coal-fired electricity - significantly increasing emissions near tribal lands. Nationally, reservation households are 10 times less likely to be electrified than other U.S. households. Small wind and solar projects are expensive, especially for tribal communities, where unemployment may be 50 percent. In large-scale projects, however, the tribes have the opportunity to invest in renewable energy-based economies. The Rosebud Sioux tribe of south-central South Dakota initiated the phased wind-development plan. Dedicated in 2003, Rosebud's initial utility-scale, 750-kilowatt (kW) turbine, "Little Soldier," is installed at the Rosebud Hotel and Casino, the tribe's largest commercial development center.

In 1999, Rosebud became the first tribe to receive a grant - covering half the turbine's cost, about $500,000 - under the U.S. Department of Energy's Tribal Renewable Energy Grants. The tribe secured a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service to finance the balance. The tribe decided to sell the bulk of the turbine's output as bundled "green power" to a local Air Force Base on a short-term contract. That established the precedent for tribes to be green power vendors to the U.S. government. The tribe sold off the remaining generation and environmental attributes of the turbine's output into separate markets, as "energy" to the local utility and as carbon offsets to marketer NativeEnergy, of which COUP has a majority equity stake on behalf of its member tribes.

The 195-foot turbine produces 2.4 million kilowatt-hours per year - keeping 25 million tons of lignite coal in the ground over its lifetime. The second phase of the Rosebud project is the 30-megawatt St. Francis wind farm, scheduled for construction this year. Together, the Rosebud turbines will comprise the nation's first large-scale Native American-owned and -operated wind farm. Integrating tribal wind with the grid, The Rosebud tribe's wind project was a landmark for tribal wind development, overcoming legal and business barriers that had discouraged utility-scale renewable energy development interconnected to the integrated regional grid system of federal and private operators. It paved the way for other Intertribal COUP tribes to install utility-scale turbines. These include 65-kW turbines commissioned on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota in 2005 and at the KILI Radio Station on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation in May, along with the multimegawatt project planned at Rosebud.

These turbine installations are but the first stage of the Intertribal COUP's wind-development plan. The Council vision is to tap the immense wind power potential on tribal lands, integrating two-dozen projects in six states with the federal hydroelectric generation and transmission grid. Tens of thousands of tribal members on 20 reservations would benefit directly from new, sustainable jobs and from the power and health benefits of local clean energy. The initial goal is for eight to 12 distributed projects totaling several hundred megawatts.

(Source: Pat Spears, president and Bob Gough, secretary of the Intertribal COUP, a nonprofit council of federally recognized Indian tribes in the northern Great Plains.)

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