Federal Agencies Partner with Native Americans to Develop Renewable Energy

July 28, 2004

Five federal agencies have partnered with the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy (ICOUP), in a multi-year program to jump-start the development of renewable energy on tribal lands. The first step in a long-term development plan was the installation in 2003 of a 750-kilowatt wind turbine to be owned and operated by the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. And there are much larger projects on the drawing board.

The effort was lead by the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice. Working Group members include the Department of Energy, Department of the Interior, the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Two key players working towards the success of the project are Ellsworth Air Force Base and Native Energy. Ellsworth purchased renewable energy certificates (RECs) for the first 5 years of the turbine's output. Native Energy, a renewable energy development company provided $200,000 to purchase RECs for resale from the 5th through the 20th year of the turbine's life.

EPA's Daniel Gogal said "Federal interagency coordination and collaboration is crucial for the success of this project, as it is for many tribal projects. It is my hope and expectation that this project will serve as a catalyst to encourage even greater Federal interagency cooperation on projects which seek to revitalize tribal communities and economies, including additional clean energy generation projects in the Northern Great Plains."

The Working Group has developed a plan that provides guidance and sets obtainable goals through the stage-by-stage realization of a 5-year comprehensive plan for the transition to tribally-controlled sustainable homeland economic development. This development will be based upon the integration of renewable wind energy into the existing federal electrical grid. The activity intends to provide for future tribal economic, cultural and community revitalization.

The first phase of the plan involves the installation of the 750- kilowatt utility scale wind turbine at the Rosebud Reservation. In the second phase, the tribe will: 1) develop a commercial wind farm (approximately 50 megawatts in size) with power to be sold to at least one of the three utilities in the region, 2) collect data at the 50-meter tower level across all participating reservations, and Federal Agencies Partner with Native Americans to Develop Renewable Energy 3) promote intertribal wind development among all the reservations of the Northern Great Plains. In addition, the project intends to prepare a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement to address tribal cultural resource and environmental protection concerns.

The third phase is the distribution phase, wherein up to eight additional ICOUP reservations in North and South Dakota will develop new wind farms of approximately 10 megawatts each. Development at this scale will provide the reservations with a self-sufficient source of clean energy. In phase four, each participating reservation will have the opportunity to explore the expansion of the 10-megawatt clusters to 50 megawatt installations. In the final stage, which is beyond the scope of this project, the plan is to replicate this project in other areas.

The Rosebud Tribe won a cooperative cost-sharing grant from the Department of Energy to build the utility scale turbine. Part of the Tribe's success in obtaining the grant can be attributed to the 18 months of wind data they had collected.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe reservation sits in the plains west of the Missouri River in South Dakota, on the northern border of Nebraska. Larger Dakota and Montana tribal lands offer the vision of economic development for distressed Native American economies. Like large federal hydro resources, these renewable resources are geographically isolated from the major load centers. In the short term, the solution will require encouragement of the capacity to deliver the power to the load centers by high voltage transmission. In the longer term, the renewable resources may produce hydrogen that would be piped to distant load centers.

The Interagency Working Group is actively seeking federal agencies that will support the environmental justice initiative by agreeing to purchase either the output from the turbines or the renewable energy credits from the turbines under long-term contracts. The purchase will help the agencies meet their energy efficiency and renewable energy goals as contained in Executive Order 13123.

A core group of local governments and renewable energy Tribes have initiated the Energy Independence Day Campaign. The campaign includes a Declaration of Energy Independence, and activities for Energy Independence Day on July 4th in Washington, DC.

For more information, please contact Daniel Gogal, Office of Environmental Justice, Environmental Protection Agency at 202-564-2576.