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Rosebud, Arabia of wind - Its fable comes to life

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ROSEBUD, S.D. ? Dakota wind is not just a myth. Its potential as an energy source has earned North and South Dakota the title of Saudi Arabia of wind.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe knows this. It will start construction of the first wind-power turbine on American Indian land this June, according to a business agreement with NativeEnergy, a company that helps finance renewable energy alternatives. The tribe expects to have the turbine up and running in September.

This first turbine will act as a pilot project for other Indian tribes. It will also be the beginning of what is expected to be a 50-megawatt wind farm on three locations on the Rosebud reservation, said Tony Rogers, Rosebud Utility Commission spokesperson. Completion is projected within two years.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council has made a final agreement with NativeEnergy of North Ferrisburgh, Vt., and planned the construction phase. The agreement is supposed to bring financial support to allow the beginning of construction, which has been stalled over the past year by funding uncertainties.

"This could be the biggest opportunity for the tribes in the Northern Plains in the 21st century. I don't know one tribe that isn't looking into this," said Bob Gough, secretary of the Intertribal COUP, (Council On Utility Policy.)

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe created a utility commission in 1995, which considered wind power from the beginning. Rogers said that several years later the entire Tribal Council got behind the project.

One of the biggest obstacles, he said, was education of the people. But elders in the tribe promoted the healthy environmental aspects of the project and convinced the tribe and council.

The first single turbine will produce enough kilowatts to supply 200 homes with power. In the future, power will be measured in megawatts; a megawatt is equal to one thousand kilowatts. The project is expected to bring revenue to the tribe.

"We have spent many years studying our wind resource and planning our first wind turbine installation," said William Kindle, chairman of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

Studies have shown that the average wind speed on the Rosebud reservation is 18 miles per hour, enough wind to supply 2.4 million kilowatt-hours of electricity in a year. The power will be distributed through Cherry Todd Electric to Basin Electric, a regional generator of electricity, and will reduce the dependence on coal-burning power generators.

Basin Electric will benefit from clean energy. The company is completely dependent on fossil fuels for generation of electricity.

"A report says Basin Electric is number one in the country for emission of CO2 (carbon dioxide) per megawatt generated. It doesn't have diversified fuels, only coal, lower lignite coal. CO2 is the greenhouse gas. Wind power will help Basin reduce the CO2, which is very positive for Basin," Gough said.

It takes about a year of research to study the wind speeds at different heights on various location of the reservation, Rogers said.

"The Rosebud Sioux Reservation is an outstanding site and area. Also other tribal lands in the area have much to offer," said Tom Bourcher, president and chief executive officer of NativeEnergy. "North and South Dakota are pointed to as capable of delivering a substantial portion of the energy requirements in the country if it could be transferred out of the area. It paints the right picture, a huge wind resource and renewable resource available, great opportunities for tribes to take advantage."

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Many years of work by the Rosebud Utilities Authority appeared at times to be on and off again.

"We could have done this much sooner, but we tried to learn as much as possible about energy," Gough said.

Benefits to the tribe are many. Jobs will be created that will include construction work and long-term maintenance operators for the many turbines. Rogers said it will take at least two persons for each turbine. The tribal council will also pursue ideas that will eventually help reduce electrical rates for tribal members.

The tribe will be paid for the electricity generated and for renewable energy credits, also known as "green tags." NativeEnergy will purchase the green tags from the tribe and resell them to businesses and individuals to provide emission offsets. The purchase of green tags will help provide financing to build the wind farms.

The first turbine is also financed through the help of the U.S. Department of Energy and with a loan from the Rural Utilities Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A $500,000 grant with matching funds acquired with the loan will pay for the first phase of the project.

"This is the only time Rural Utilities Services has worked with a tribe," Gough said. "They mostly work with electrical co-ops. This was a learning process to go through, not just for the tribe. If the demonstration project is successful then we can go back to them on the larger plan."

The initial cost will be $1.2 million. Some of that cost is attributed to consultant fees and test work that will apply to the ongoing development of the wind farm, Rogers said. The cost of producing wind power is estimated at $1 million per megawatt. This will mean a $50 million investment for the tribe to complete the project.

Rogers said the initial loan has a 30-year payoff, but added the tribe hopes to pay it off sooner. A balloon payment at 10 years is possible. Before that time, however, the entire wind farm should be up and running.

The cost of wind power may be higher than the usual fossil fuel generating facility.

"It's the cleanliness that is sold for more. We pay more for clean electricity. Like unleaded gasoline, it's what is not in it that we pay for. Like organic food," Gough said.

The first wind turbine will stand on a 170-foot high tubular tower. It will have a blade wingspan of 150 feet. The construction will provide local jobs. With long-range planning permanent jobs will be created for the continued operation of additional turbines.

"The Rosebud Wind Project is leading the way in bringing tribal utility-scale wind power on line," said Pat Spears, president of the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy. "The tremendous wind resources of the northern Great Plains have many Indian tribes looking at utility-scale renewable energy generation as a no-regrets sustainable homeland economic development strategy."

The future wind farm and the first turbine will be owned exclusively by the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. No outside investors will take revenues from the operation other than repayment of loans.

No downtime is expected for this source of electricity, Gough said. "The wind always blows sometime in the Northern Plains."