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Rosebud tribal members turn ground for wind turbine

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MISSION, S.D. - The Rosebud Sioux Tribe has embarked on a pilot project it hopes will open the door on wind-generated power it can sell, the first on a South Dakota reservation.

Tribal officials broke ground April 4 at the Rosebud Casino and Quality Inn where the 170-foot wind turbine will be located as "a show horse," Utility Commissioner Jack Davey said. "We want to establish it here where people can see it and set up an education center."

Long-term plans call for wind farms near St. Francis and one north of Mission.

Ceremonies were attended largely by tribal officials and representatives of various agencies which helped launch the project.

The tribe has been working on the project for a number of years, but the project stalled last year in the midst of negotiations when the company, which produces the large turbines, demanded too many concessions from the tribe.

The tribal utility department has measured wind currents for more than a year to determine if there was sufficient wind to power generators and found the site would be ideal for its first venture into renewable energy. Tribal officials hope to add a second site.

"This is great day. A lot of people worked hard on this. I know it has been a dream of the tribal utilities commission for some time," Vice President Glenn Yellow Eagle said.

Tony Rogers, executive director of the utilities commission, said the commission was created nearly 20 years ago, but officially started its work in the mid-1990s.

Tribal officials dedicated the groundbreaking ceremony to Alex Little Soldier Lunderman who passed away while serving as the tribe's vice president.

"This was Alex Little Soldier's dream.

"We want this to be the stepping stone and the showcase wind turbine for the state and other tribes," Rogers said.

While tribal officials had hoped to be the first in the state to erect a wind turbine, a power company has plans to place two near Chamberlain along the Missouri River in central South Dakota.

Utility commissioner Jack Davey credited the idea for the farm to Lunderman who shared a vision of the tribe's use of solar panels and wind power.

Davey said a pivotal role of the project is fueling economic development by bringing a vital industry to the reservation.

"We, as Native Americans, talk a lot about our sovereignty, but we are not sovereign until the day we have economic independence."

The Sinte Gleska professor found himself involved in the project several years ago after attending the tribe's first conference on Native American Renewable Energy Programs.

Since then, he helped push the project. As it was beginning to take shape, there was a change in tribal administration and the project was placed on the back burner. When William Kindle regained the tribal presidency, the project gained support.

A major key to economic development is producing a product needed all the time and he said the wind-power project will not only produce a stable, marketable product, but it do it without polluting the earth.

Recent rolling blackouts in California were fresh in the minds of tribal utility commissioners who said they could foresee the same events elsewhere if other power generation options are not fully explored.

"It's going to get worse before it gets better," Davey said.

He said he would prefer to see use of fossil fuels curbed to protect the environment rather than an increase in the use of coal-fueled generators or building new nuclear power plants.

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"About 70 percent of our power comes from coal-fired plants in Wyoming. Thirty percent of our power comes in the form of hydropower from the Missouri. One of the things we can do is take advantage of the wind resources we have," he said.

"There is enough wind energy in this area to power more than half the requirements for the lower 48 states," said Davey.

The prospects of building more nuclear plants brings with it the problem of disposing of radioactive waste. Davey reminded tribal members the very land they live on was considered as a dump site at one time.

"This is a way to get the money from the outside here." Instead of the money tribal members pay for utilities services leaving the reservation, he said it could remain and be reinvested.

The wind turbine will stand 170 feet high with a propeller rotation diameter of 150 feet and produce 750,000 watts of power, Davey said.

"Today is indeed a very proud day for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe because it is a an example of real teamwork," said Joanne Young, acting BIA superintendent. That agency and several others assisted the tribe in its effort to establish a utilities commission and find funding.

Robert Gough, formerly executive director of the utility commission and now its attorney, said Native Americans suffer a disparity when it comes to receiving utility services.

"If you live in Indian country, you are 10 times more likely not to have electricity. In the Southwest, 30 to 40 percent are without electricity."

He said about 5 to 6 percent of reservation households in South Dakota are without electricity and the percentage of household without access to electricity in North Dakota is slightly higher.

It has only been since January that the tribe could buy power under an agreement with Western Area Power Authority which allows it a larger share.

"Every day there is an ocean of energy across the Plains when the sun comes up. We only harvest about 200,000 megawatts from the Missouri River. Reservations could produce 250 gigawatts on the reservations alone. There is a significant resource," Gough said.

Surrounding states, including North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming, all have begun using wind power.

"By the end of the year there will be at least three large wind generators in the state, two in Chamberlain and one on the Rosebud Sioux reservation. Montana officials are already working on a larger project and other reservations are looking at similar prospects. The turbine placed at the casino will generate 750 kilowatts, enough to power the needs of the casino and the motel. A similar size could provide power for up to 400 homes.

The reservation could become home to a virtual power house with up to 50 gigawatts being produced in Todd County. Covering the entire land mass of the Pine Ridge reservation would net nearly 90,000 megawatts of power, he said. "This could mean a tremendous amount for the economy of our region."

"We can turn on every light in every home on the reservation. This project is important because we are breaking a trail. Providing energy is something everybody needs. We couldn't find a better opportunity to raise our standard of living and creating an income," said Pat Spears, president of the Intertribal Utility Policy Council.

A development company, Ta Tanka Energy Services LLC, is being formed to assist tribes in developing an intertribal company, he said.

"We identified 30 sites for 30 megawatts on the reservations. I believe the resources on tribal lands represents the largest scale of economic development on the reservations," said Don Osborn, whose company will work with the new development group.

"We're very excited about the project. It's a turbine that has a great track record. They produce over 99 percent availability which means whenever the wind is blowing it produces," said Jay Gilason of NEG-Micron.

The company with offices in Minnesota services more than 150 wind turbines in the Midwestern region.

Bill Bullard, a commissioner with the state Public Utilities Commission, said he found the project an impressive start.

"We need more energy. This is nothing but a good idea. I know I am among people who have vision and the courage to effect that vision. You ask what we think about it? One word - wow!"