China Dialogue: Tribes turning to renewable energy sources

"The Kumeyaay people have learned to live with wind. Their lands, perched in the high desert some 70 kilometres east of San Diego, in far-southern California, are perpetually buffeted by gusts that rush down valleys and canyons, hurtling toward the Pacific Ocean. The gusts sometimes reach hurricane speeds, blasting the coast with hot desert air, forcing residents to seek refuge inland, like the forebears of today’s Kumeyaay did.

In the 1980s, leaders of the Native American – or American Indian -- tribe wondered if their lands might make a good home for wind turbines, which were then beginning to dot the hills in nearby Palm Springs. “When wind developers proposed a wind farm on our lands, we listened,” says tribal chairwoman Monique LaChappa. “When we understood that we could not get the same return on invested capital as non-Indian developers, we agreed to support the development of Kumeyaay Wind I anyway, and leased our land and resources.”

So, in 2005, the tribe did something remarkable. It built what was then and remains the only commercial wind farm on tribal land in the United States. The turbines produce enough electricity to power the tribe’s administrative buildings, as well as 30,000 homes off the Campo reservation. The tribe’s second wind farm, Kumeyaay Wind II – expected to come online in 2012 -- is a 160-megawatt project to be built in partnership with the local utility, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDGE), and Invenergy LLC."

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Tapping into US tribal power (China Dialogue 5/11)

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