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Native Sun News: Six South Dakota tribes plan largest wind farm

Filed Under: Environment | National
More on: bill clinton, cheyenne river sioux, crow creek sioux, energy, native sun news, oglala sioux, rosebud sioux, sisseton-wahpeton, south dakota, wind, yankton sioux
     

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Environment and Health Editor, Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.


Representatives of partner groups (left) and tribal council presidents (right) take part in announcement of tribal wind-energy plan by former President Bill Clinton and Intertribal COUP administrator Bob Gough (center). Courtesy/Intertribal COUP

Six SD Tribes plan largest wind farm in US
By Talli Nauman
Environment and Health Editor
Native Sun News

CHICAGO – The recent announcement of a plan for a model joint public-utility authority in Indian country focused attention on Native Nations’ resolve to “unleash the powers of the wind” for energy security and tribal gain.

“In joining together to build the largest wind-power installation in the United States and the largest economic development project in South Dakota, the tribes will finally achieve a level of self-determination, self-development and self-reliance that, acting alone, they have not had in the past,” six tribal council presidents declared during the most recent Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America meeting.

“Our project will more than double the installed wind-power capacity in South Dakota and add 2-3 percent to the total amount of wind-power generated in the United States,” they added.

But first they must put the shared public-utility authority in place. That’s where the CGI comes in.

The CGI, founded by former President Bill Clinton, serves as a project catalyst, helping identify partners, facilitating conversation, and showcasing results of a so-called Commitment to Action, which is a plan addressing a significant challenge.

In this case, the challenge is creating and joining the links for a commercial wind-energy supply chain in Indian country. The first phase of ambitious undertaking is the commitment to consolidate the shared public-utility authority.

Announcing the commitment, Clinton called the 2013 Joint Wind Power Development Project on Tribal Lands “my favorite project”, out of the 74 adopted by his organization this year and the 2,600 total that have been made since CGI’s inception, according to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The plan is just the latest of many tribal moves to break into the wind-energy business. By making a Commitment to Action, the tribes have garnered important partners and positioned themselves to attract more of the same in what is already a decade-long wind-energy development effort championed by the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy (COUP).

“Through the 2013 commitment, together with our private, non-profit and philanthropic sector partners, six tribes of the Great Sioux Nation of South Dakota will establish the Oceti Sakowin Power Authority for the purpose of developing a tribally owned 1000-megawatt, commercial scale, distributed-generation wind farm and transmission system,” said Bob Gough, head of Intertribal COUP, which consists of representatives from 15 reservations bordering on Nebraska, North and South Dakota, including the commitment signatories.

Distributed generation means a system that draws its source of energy from many dispersed sites rather than a single large facility. “This project completely changes the model for developing wind power in the U.S.,” the tribal council presidents sustained.

Gough accompanied them to the announcement ceremony June 13-14 in Chicago. They are: Wayne Ducheneaux of Cheyenne River, Brandon Sazue of Crow Creek, Thurman Cournoyer of Yankton, Cyril Scott of Rosebud, Bryan Brewer of Pine Ridge and Robert Shepherd of Sisseton-Wahpeton. In addition to Intertribal COUP, the tribes’ partners in the two-year endeavor valued at some $11 million are: Arent Fox LLP, Herron Consulting LLC, Rally, Liati Group LLC, Bush Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and Northwest Area Foundation.

Some 30 states and many municipalities have joint agreements between authorities to provide electric service across the United States. However, an accord of this scale hasn’t been inked for almost 30 years, according to the CGI portfolio.

What’s more, a multi-tribal power authority project has never been tested before, although the groundwork for cooperation is laid by the Intertribal COUP.

“It is our hope that this project may become a model for the development of wind power and other forms of renewable energy across the United States, both on and off native lands,” the council presidents said.

The Dakotas, home to some of the strongest, most reliable wind resources in the United States, host only 13 commercial wind farms to date. Tribal land accounts for 16 percent of the total territory within the boundary area of South Dakota, and tribes contend they have the potential to develop as much as 58 Gigawatts of power while producing zero emissions.

“The northern Great Plains has enough wind resources to meet the entire energy demand of the United States several times over,” they claimed.

However, tribal governments have been unable to take advantage of the potential, they said. The statement explains why, taking note of the main obstacles to wind energy development in Indian country.

Tribal governments are tax-exempt, so they don’t qualify for tax credits, the top incentive for wind-production in the United States. To date, a 50 megawatt wind farm on the Campo Reservation, bordered by California, is the only utility-scale wind power project on tribal lands -- and the tribe earns less from leasing the lands to their business partners than the overlapping county receives from taxing these same businesses.

Additional difficulties arise in cutting bureaucratic red tape and in arranging for buyers, or in other words, obtaining power purchase agreements (PPAs) for small-scale commercial generation like Campo’s. Then, too, transmission line infrastructure is inadequate.

Creation of the joint utility authority would “allow the Sioux tribes to own the wind- and transmission-assets and distribute the surplus revenue to its member tribes,” the project portfolio explains.

Once on firm footing, expected in 2015, the envisioned utility authority would issue bonds worth $1.75-3 billion in order to start development of the generation and transmission system. Because six tribes in one entity would encompass a much larger scope of business than a single-tribe endeavor, the PPAs are expected to be more accessible to the aspiring producers.

By the same token, to satisfy prospective bond buyers, the authority is expected to initially negotiate long-term agreements with highly credit-worthy purchasers, such as large corporations, government agencies, and state markets seeking wind power, such as California, Colorado and Minnesota.

Over time, the process supposedly would lead to more availability of affordable, renewable energy for member tribes’ homes and offices.

“By combining our resources into a project of this size and scope, the tribes together will be in a better position to pursue tribal priorities with key governmental and private partners, such as the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), the Army Corps of Engineers, and the local power cooperatives and utilities, whose policies and practices directly affect wholesale and retail power prices and water usage rights on the reservations,” council presidents stated.

Meanwhile, the Crow Creek Tribe, which was represented in Chicago by Councilor Eric Big Eagle, already announced it has created a new company called Sioux Wind to generate electricity from turbines that would be built on or near its reservation in central South Dakota.

The tribe will own 80 percent of the new company. The other 20 percent will be owned by Dalton Creations of Houston, which will lead the effort to raise $15 million from investors to launch the wind farm, the tribe said.

The Oceti Sakowin Power Authority’s formation and pre-development work are set for completion by May 2015, as efforts to raise start-up funds moves forward.

The tribes are pursuing partnership opportunities in the start-up activities, seeking financial resources from foundations and socially-conscious investment funds.

They are looking for implementing partners for wind power generation and transmission technology and development, including manufacturers, developers and operators.

They also require best-practice information on joint-powers authorities from existing entities, academic researchers and industry consultants.

In Year 1 of the project, the tribes need to set up governance structures such as tribal utility commissions to accommodate the new public utility authority.

In Year 2, the multi-tribal utility authority is scheduled to complete the technical and economic feasibility studies for a joint power generation and transmission system. This could include site-specific resource assessments, preliminary environmental assessments, technology analysis, preliminary system design, power purchase and interconnection agreements, and project credit structure.

That accomplished, another follow-up Commitment to Action will be necessary, the CGI says.

“Per the overall intent of the project, the next steps (to be made in a subsequent commitment), would be for the authority to issue the first tranche of bonds (June 2015) and start development work on the multi-Tribal power generation and transmission system (i.e., detailed engineering drawings, environmental assessments, interconnection assessments, permits and approvals),” it says.

The partners predict that Year 4 will include the completion of development work (including construction plans and agreements) from June 2015 through December 2016.

Construction then could be phased in with site preparation and turbine manufacturing for generation and transmission.

Year 5 would include more construction, plus generation, connection and distribution with the potential of bringing some wind farm segments online by 2018.

The Commitment to Action is an outgrowth of tribes’ efforts to advance their rights and develop sound energy and environmental policy, the CGI notes.

The Oglala and Rosebud Sioux tribes established the Lakota Oyate Energy Commission in the mid-1980s to explore treaty rights in the Missouri River Basin, with an eye toward social, environmental and economic development.

The Commission established a shared working framework with model utility, environmental and land management codes. This cooperation led to the formation in the 1990s of the 28-member-tribe MniSose Intertribal Water Rights Coalition, designed to secure the first allocation of low-cost federal hydropower from Missouri River dams.

Tribes drew from that experience when they founded and chartered Intertribal COUP in 1994 to explore ways to build renewable energy projects for local needs and generate power for distribution in other regions of the country.

(Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

Copyright permission by Native Sun News


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