Native Americans Breaking Trail for Green Power
“An overnight success that took eight years” is a description often applied to the first Native American owned utility-scale wind turbine by people involved in the project. Officially dedicated in May, the 170 ft 750 kW NEG Micon turbine now stands on a hill above the Rosebud Hotel and Casino in south central South Dakota on the Rosebud Sioux reservation. Patrick Spears (left), Robert Gough (right), Rosebud wind turbine (middle). Photo courtesy of Intertribal COUP.
Wind energy has long been an attractive possibility for tribal communities partly due to simple geography– tribal lands in North Dakota, South Dakota and other Great Plains states happen to include some of the best wind resource areas in the world. However, motivations for pursuing a wind project were much more complex for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Concerns about how electricity generation affects the health of the air, land, water and people, the growing threat of global climate change, and a deep-seated interest in expanding economic opportunities for community members played major roles. And this project is only the beginning. The Rosebud tribe purposefully experimented with models and the planning process for this project with the intention of gaining enough knowledge and experience to make future wind projects, bigger, more efficient and more profitable.
The suggestion that this project was almost deliberately made into a long, challenging process is not hard to believe considering that the original groundwork was laid as far back as 1994, the year the Rosebud Sioux established a Tribal Utility Commission (TUC) to expand their capacity to manage energy issues. At that time the most pressing issue was obtaining an allocation for hydropower electricity from the Western Area Power Administration. (WAPA is a power marketing administration within the U.S. Department of Energy charged with selling and transmitting electricity from federal hydroelectric power plants.). Part of the TUC’s job was to develop an integrated resource plan, which required studying all possible energy sources, both renewable and traditional. This lead to the installation of the first wind-monitoring tower to measure what the tribe already suspected was a promising wind resource. Rosebud turbine under construction. Photo Courtesy of Intertribal COUP.
As many Missouri River basin tribes were facing similar energy issues at that time, a coalition of northern Great Plains tribes chartered the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy (Intertribal COUP) to create a common forum for utility policy discussions. Over the next few years, Intertribal COUP focused on WAPA allocations, but also started exploring ways to integrate their own energy resources. Intertribal COUP and the Rosebud TUC began to grow their knowledge base by organizing and hosting a series of meetings and conferences to explore the feasibility of wind power and building connections with groups from other states with more wind experience.
During the process of learning about wind energy possibilities, the Rosebud TUC became a champion of bringing these opportunities home to the Rosebud reservation. Many members of the commission became tireless advocates for both the economic and environmental benefits of wind power. Particularly remembered are the contributions of the late Alex “Little Soldier” Lunderman, the first president of the utility commission for whom the turbine was named at the May dedication. Ronald Neiss, another former utility commission president, told Wind Powering America last year about Lunderman’s vision that continues to guide the commission today: “He believed we could use modern technology as well as our resources in a way that is compatible with our history, our philosophy, and our cultural and spiritual values. With the Rosebud Wind Project, we are trying to make his vision a reality by using the tremendous wind resource on the reservation in a good way.”
This first turbine is a demonstration project that's breaking trail for future, bigger projects.The current TUC President, Rod Bordeaux, sees the growing potential for tribal wind power as a positive direction for Great Plains Tribes, “ Energy has a steep learning curve, but people are beginning to understand where this is going. ”
By the late 1990s, it was clear that the Rosebud Sioux had an excellent wind resource, and an interest in using a clean, renewable, native natural resource to generate power. However, the question of how to finance a large wind energy venture remained. Part of that question was answered in 1999, when Rosebud was the only tribe to receive funding ($508,000, half the cost of the turbine) for a utility scale wind turbine in the Department of Energy’s first round of Tribal Renewable Energy Grants. Soon after receiving the DOE award, the tribe began negotiations with the Rural Utilities Service to borrow money for the rest of the project, which, at the time, had never worked with either tribes or renewable energy. (RUS is a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that makes loans to rural utility service providers.) The effort paid off in 2002 when the Rosebud tribe secured a loan for the second half of the turbine installation costs and a little extra to set up some new wind monitoring stations.
While working on the financing, the TUC also began to tackle other hurdles such as obtaining permission to interconnect the turbine to the power grid and finding a market for the electricity. They used this process explore many markets that could also be viable for future, larger wind projects. Students and teachers gathered at the turbine dedication. Photo courtesy Clean Air- Cool Planet.Among the considerations: working with the owners of the transmission and distribution lines, plugging into the federal market for renewable energy, and the possibility of selling wind energy as premium green electricity.
The result of the extensive negotiations is a multi-faceted arrangement for selling and transmitting the wind turbine’s electricity (see chart). A long-term deal was made to provide electricity directly to the Rosebud Casino, but the contract allows the tribe flexibility to explore other options. For example, for the first few years (up to 5) Rosebud is providing "green power" to Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, SD by coordinating with Basin Electric Power Cooperative, WAPA, and Nebraska Public Power. The tribe is also working with NativeEnergy, a Vermont based company that agreed to buy the remaining lifetime output of green tags from the project. Consumer demand for cleaner electricity has driven the development of a market for the environmental attributes of wind-generated electricity (referred to as green tags) and NativeEnergy has tapped this market by selling green tags from the Rosebud turbine to thousands of individuals and environmentally minded companies such as Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, a Rolling Stones climate change concert and a recent Dave Matthews Band tour. A consumer buying green tags can think of it as way to offset pollution and greenhouse gas emissions associated with their own electricity use. 2003FallNews_chart.gif (62357 bytes)
Gough described this first wind turbine as a learning tool, that is “breaking trail” for more and bigger tribal wind energy projects. While recognizing the pioneering efforts of other Great Plains tribes in smaller scale wind power (such as Spirit Lake and Turtle Mountain in North Dakota, the Upper Sioux and White Earth Chippewa, and the Blackfeet in Montana), Patrick Spears, President of Intertribal COUP, said, “Rosebud has taken the lead among tribal nations of the northern plains in realizing the potential of large scale wind energy development. And this turbine is only step one, the next phase of Rosebud’s plan is a 30-50 MW project.”
Rosebud and Intertribal COUP have also joined in developing a road map for an 80 MW project to be distributed in clusters across eight Great Plains reservations. “This project would provide a way for a number of tribes to share the risks and benefits involved of a large wind project to capture the economies of scale necessary to be economically feasible and secure each reservation a place on the WAPA grid as a clean energy generator. Ten megawatts on each reservation would likely be absorbed on the local distribution system, and have little impact on an otherwise constrained transmission grid” noted Gough. To date, four Intertribal COUP tribes have begun the necessary planning and data collection to participate in this effort.
The incentive for Great Plains tribes to pursue wind power goes beyond the great promise of economic development. Wind is an opportunity for tribes to control their own energy resources and the impact of their energy use. Reservations are seen as permanent homelands for tribal communities, and the residents realize that depleting the natural resources is incompatible with that idea. “The Lakota people have always had great respect for the power of the wind,” said Spears, and now they can use that power to produce clean energy and economic development.
MORE INFORMATION Rosebud Wind Project
* NativeEnergy Photos
* First Rosebud Wind Turbine Generates Support: An Interview with Intertribal COUP Secretary Robert Gough- Cultural Survival Quarterly, Fall 2003
* Wind Powering America: Rosebud 750-kW Wind Turbine Installed
* Tribes Find Power in Wind, by Winona LaDuke, YES!, Summer 2003 * Wind Powering America: Wind Stakeholder Interview- Rosebud Reservation
* Rosebud Casino and Hotel
Green Power Markets
* Windustry: Wind Energy Markets
* NativeEnergy- national marketer of renewable energy credits or green tags.
* Green Power Network - Clearinghouse for information on the electric power industry's green power efforts.
Resources for Tribal Wind Energy Projects
* U.S. Department of Energy Tribal Energy Program
* Wind Powering America: Native American Anemometer Loan Program
* Wind Powering America: Case Studies on Native Americans Using Wind Power
* Western Area Power Administration
* U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service
* Basin Electric Power Cooperative
* National Renewable Energy Laboratory: South Dakota Wind Map
WIND ENERGY News
USDA Grants announced
The first round of grant awards for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements Program was announced August 25, 2003. Over $21 million was awarded for 131 projects in 24 states. Minnesota lead all states with $4,678,632, followed by New York, Illinois, and Ohio. Many grants will support wind projects, including small residential-scale turbines, farmer-owned utility-scale turbines, and rural electric cooperative wind projects. For more information: www.windustry.org/resources/farmbill.htm.
Large farmer project wins bid
In August, Great River Energy announced that it will begin contract negotiations for 100 MW of wind power with Trimont Area Wind Farm, LLC. Trimont Wind is a coalition of local citizens from the project area (south central Minnesota) that answered Great River Energy’s request for proposals to develop a renewable energy supply resource to be ready by 2005. It will be the largest locally owned wind project in the nation. According to GRE, the project was chosen for its competitive price, its access to transmission line interconnections, its location within the coop’s service territory, and its appeal as a locally owned project.
MN Community Wind Rebate
The Minnesota Department of Commerce Energy Office announced a new Community Wind Rebate program available to non-taxable entities (such as schools, non-profit organizations, or government units) in Minnesota outside of the southwest portion of the state. Projects can receive rebates of up to $150,000 by applying before the November 13, 2003 deadline. For more information, visit www.windustry.org or contact Mike Taylor at 651-296-6830 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Windustry WindProject Calculator has been updated with new turbines and improved with a more user-friendly format. It is available at www.windustry.org/calculator.
The Windustry staff expanded to include Wes Slaymaker who is taking on the role of Windustry Project Engineer. He is a certified professional engineer with more than three years experience developing wind energy projects in the Midwest. He brings a new level of practical and technical expertise to Windustry. Welcome Wes!
WIND ENERGY Workshops/Events
November 11 - 13, 2003 – AWEA Wind Financing Workshop, Palm Springs, CA. Contact the American Wind Energy Association at (202) 383-2500 or visit www.awea.org/seminars.html.
November 14, 2003 – Minnesota's Renewable Energy Research: Status and Opportunities, Brooklyn Center, MN. Presented by Energy Alley. Contact Erik Pratt at 612-334-3388, ext. 102, or visit www.mn-ei.org/ea/research03.html.
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WIND FARMERS Network
The Wind Farmers Network is now in development for landowners, communities and others interested in investing in wind energy to exchange information and experiences. Visit www.windustry.org/farmer or contact Windustry for more information or to join the network.
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