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White Earth Nation Installs Turbines: A Wind Powering America Success Story

February 11, 2013

Almost 8 years after taking the initial steps to harness the wind, the White Earth Nation recently completed the installation of two small wind turbines that will help offset energy costs for Minnesota's largest and most populous Native American reservation.

Mike Triplett, economic development planner with the White Earth Development Office, believes that the project represents a unique opportunity for tribal entities in the United States. He noted that tribes don't qualify for tax-based incentives.

"And as for working with investors, we never found that to be a viable option," Triplett said. "So we've relied heavily on grants."

Funded through nearly $1.8 million in congressional appropriations along with $500,000 of tribal assets and a $200,000 grant from the Blandin Foundation, the two Endurance wind turbines complete the initial phase of wind energy development for the tribe. The White Earth Nation is planning a third turbine installation, a refurbished Zond 750-kW turbine expected to be complete by September 2013.

An additional distinctive feature of this installation is the cooperation between White Earth Nation and TWN Wind Power, owned by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation of North Vancouver, British Columbia. TWN Wind Power supplied and installed the wind turbines. According to Triplett, the two Native American groups met at the 2012 Reservation Economic Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada.

"We were happy to connect with them," Triplett said. "They sold the Endurance wind turbine, and we were pleased with the product that they were selling."

The two Endurance turbines are located on separate sites on the reservation, supplying power for different facilities. The turbine at the Naytahwaush Humanity Center is a fully configured 50-kilowatt (kW) system that will provide between 30% and 50% of the Humanity Center's electrical needs.

The second turbine, located at Ojibwe Building Supply, was de-rated to 35 kW. It is expected to meet 100% of the facility's electrical needs.

"That turbine is part of a net-metering arrangement with the local utility co-op. We'll basically end up not owing the electric bill and could potentially get money back," Triplett said.

The White Earth Nation participated in an anemometer loan program as part of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Wind Powering America initiative. Wind Powering America supplied the anemometer that measured the wind resource on the reservation for a 2-year period that ended in April 2009.

The DOE also provided further support for the projects by conducting environmental assessments prior to construction.

Gary Nowakowski, renewable technologies branch chief for DOE, said the project will have a positive effect on the tribe.

"White Earth has had a heavy reliance on fuel oil, propane, and electricity, so something like this is good for them," Nowakowski said.

"A project of this nature demonstrates how hard it can sometimes be to work through the development process for community-based wind energy projects," said Ian Baring-Gould, national technical director of the Wind Powering America initiative. "It also demonstrates how local determination, combined with some external technical assistance support, such as the Anemometer Loan Program, help organizations work through this development process."

For more information, see the White Earth Nation and the DOE's Tribal Energy Program and Wind Powering America.