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Western governors' hot topic is alternative energy

DEADWOOD, S.D. - Discussions over clean energy opened the 2007 Western Governors' Association's recent annual meeting in the Black Hills.

Ten of the 19 governors were in attendance and elected officials from Canada were also present.

Clean energy was not the only topic for the meeting June 10 - 12, but it took up a good portion of event. Carbon capturing and sequestration, or CCS - the process of capturing CO2 emissions for storage underground - was discussed at length.

Western states have had to rely most recently on fossil fuel as a power source because a seven-year drought has substantially reduced the flow of water to hydroelectric dams on the Missouri River. The hydro power from those dams is allocated through the Western Area Power Administration.

The abundance of coal reserves in the Western region, especially in Wyoming and parts of Montana, could provide the needed energy source to power a large part of the country, but with an adverse environmental impact. CCS would lesson that impact, scientists told the governors.

The governors sought ways to create viable alternative energy, such as wind power, which is nearly continuously available in many Western states. Wind farms are cropping up in many areas, and although wind energy may not be used as a main source of power, according to wind power advocates, it will lower the emission of CO2 by reducing the dependence on coal and oil.

Tests have shown that South Dakota has earned the label of the ''Saudi Arabia of wind power.'' Six of South Dakota's tribal reservations are located in the western part of the state, where tests have proven there is plenty of wind. Tribes with the will to construct wind farms for economic development, however, do not have the financial wherewithal to partner with developers to create the wind farms on tribal lands. And most of the land on which wind farms would be constructed are privately owned or not near a power grid system on which to connect, which creates problems in siting wind farms.

The tribes are at a disadvantage because they are not allowed to use the Production Tax Credit as an incentive for developers. PTC provides a 1.9 cent-per-kilowatt-hour (kWh) tax credit for electricity generated for the first 10 years of a renewable energy facility's operation.

The Intertribal Council on Utility Policy asked the governors to sign on to a letter that would request congressional committees to pass House Bill 1956, which would change the IRS rules to allow tribes to be part of the PTC for alternative energy.

The PTCs are very important for the growth of wind energy. Much of the wind energy and the potential economic growth for tribes lie with the approval of the PTCs.

''As you are well aware, we have tremendous wind resources across the state of South Dakota with over 269,120 MW of Class 4-6 wind on tribal lands alone,'' said Intertribal COUP President Pat Spears in a letter to South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, outgoing chairman of the WGA.

The goal of the WGA is to provide 30,000 MW of power for the Western states with alternative energy sources by the year 2015.

Tribes will provide 80 MW of power for their tribal members on the reservations, and will also be able to access rural electric systems and Western Area Power Administration markets with additional power production. They can't without the PTC incentive.

At a press conference, Rounds was asked what South Dakota was doing to encourage wind energy development among the tribes. He said the state welcomes and encourages the development of resources on tribal lands.

''It was encouraging, I thought,'' said Chip Comins, filmmaker with American Spirit Productions and a board member of Native Wind.

Spears said he has tried for more than a year to get Rounds to agree to a meeting and work with the tribes and to comment on a letter sent to him about the tax credit.

''One staff member brought up a concern about another tribe investing in a wind project here. I said, 'That can't happen; they can't use the tax credit, either.'

''He said, 'We would rather see it local.' There is nothing more local than tribal lands,'' Spears said.

Developers from out of state can receive tax credits. There are no developers in South Dakota.

Several years ago, the Senate supported the tax credit measure for tribes, but it did not receive the support of the House.

The WGA's support would help passage of H.R. 1956 to allow tribes to partner with developers with tax incentives.

More than 35 cities support tribal wind energy development, including many who receive WAPA hydropower allocations that are now 85 percent dependent on carbon-emitting fuels.

Without the PTC, tribes will not have access to private capital for investment at the same level as other developers, Intertribal COUP claims.

The second and final day of the governor's conference was devoted to carbon emission, and to develop a method of dealing with Congress on this environmental issue.

Native Wind is online at www.nativewind.org.