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Renewable energy may bring economic boom

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DENVER -- A most unlikely partnership between tribes and cities may be in
the offing, and the connection could go a long way toward saving the
environment by providing clean and renewable energy.

A Native Renewable Energy Summit was held in Denver Nov. 15 -- 17 to
brainstorm for ways in which the cities and tribes can partner to achieve
their individual goals. The summit was designed to bring ideas to the table
that could develop into workable plans for tribes and cities to work
together to move toward a cleaner environment while overcoming pitfalls and
generating economic opportunities.

Tribes -- especially those in the northern Great Plains -- want to develop
clean, economically sustainable energy sources; and they have great wind
resources available throughout most of their tribal lands.

The many cities that have pledged to reduce their dependence on
carbon-producing power share a common ground with the tribes. Tribes could
lead the way by showing their commitment to clean air and water, and
creating the potential to expand the distribution of power.

A plan is on the table to build wind turbines on nearly all of the Plains
reservations to provide the power they and nearby communities need.

The marriage of a clean environment and economic development may not be
easily created, yet the obvious barriers seem to be few.

Mayors from 180 cities across the country have signed on to an agreement to
protect the climate and agreed to participate in the principles of the
Kyoto Protocol, even though the federal government is not a party to that
international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

So far, three cities -- Boulder, Colo., Aspen, Colo. and Seattle -- have
agreed to explore possible partnerships with the tribes. Those cities'
mayors participated in a conclave in Denver with tribal leaders from all
corners of the country.

"The cities are desirous of taking positive action. Since the United States
has not participated in the Kyoto Protocol, the cities are taking the
initiative," said Robert Gough, secretary of the Intertribal Council on
Utility Policy.

Boulder Mayor Mark Ruzzin said his city's residents want renewable energy
used. "And we are starting to see that all across the country.

"There is a grass-roots component with cities; and now we need to see if
the states can move now, and then eventually get the federal government
involved," Ruzzin said.

"This is very much an environmental and economic area worth tapping into.
We are seeing wind as extremely viable. Wind is here and the sun is here:
we need to tap into them for the future and change what the past has built
upon."

That's good news for the tribes. There is an estimated 17,000 times more
wind on the northern Great Plains than would ever be utilized. But putting
the package together may be difficult.

Questions remain about financing wind turbines, connecting to the grid,
exploring what type of agreement tribes would have with federal power
authorities and -- one of the largest 'ifs' -- whether enough turbines are
available. As more countries take advantage of the wind to generate clean
power, a worldwide shortage of turbines has developed.

Renewable energy use for power is growing in this country, especially
locally. Ruzzin said Boulder set a goal of finding 500 customers who wanted
to use renewable energy, and before the idea was formally made public the
city had more than 1,000 subscribers.

Aspen has agreed to a zero-carbon footprint. That city uses power from the
Western Area Power Administration, a federal agency, which normally would
produce power from hydroelectric dams. But given the current drought
conditions, hydropower is down and Aspen now receives 80 percent of its
power from coal-generated facilities. Eventually, the tribes hope, the city
could request WAPA add tribally generated power to the grid.

WAPA's extra power comes from the No. 1 producer of carbon dioxide in the
country -- Basin Electric Power Cooperative. Located in North Dakota, Basin
Electric supplies most of the power for the Great Plains. Basin Electric
burns lignite coal, one of the most polluting of fossil fuels used in
electricity generation.

Beth Conover, director and special adviser of Denver's Sustainability
Initiative office, said the city is very interested in reducing greenhouse
gases and supports renewable energy sources.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has endorsed a positive climate change, and
most of the mayors have been contacted by ICOUP to begin dialogue toward
that goal.

"There is a tremendous generation capacity on reservations; the idea is to
find ways of getting power to those cities to reduce their carbon
footprint. This would provide a chance for some of the poorest areas to
provide a sustainable, low-carbon future," Gough said.

Most customers in the cities, when asked if they would be willing to pay a
little more for power that was generated from renewable sources, said they
would.

The market is there, the opportunities are there; but the logistics need to
be worked out. That part appears to be the most difficult. Tribes may be in
a better position than most cities or states when it comes to legal matters
because of their sovereignty. The sovereignty of the tribes and their
connection to the federal government may be the link to get power on the
grid.

To become renewable-energy role models, tribes need to set an example. Some
tribes have set environmental standards, but to be part of the clean,
renewable energy movement they must also pass standards and rules and
enforce them not just on their own lands, but on private and
government-owned lands as well.

Legal precedent has been set in that area by the Isleta Pueblo of New
Mexico against the city of Albuquerque. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld
Isleta's right to force Albuquerque to abide by the Pueblo's standards with
a wastewater treatment plant. The Pueblo demanded clean water, and the city
was forced to build a new treatment plant to protect the water that flows
into the Pueblo.

The new energy bill passed by Congress holds many opportunities for tribes,
Gough said. Those opportunities may just be the openings needed for further
discussion and partnering with other government entities to create a viable
economic engine for tribes with renewable resources.