North American Native Nations Mount Utility Scale Wind Projects

BROWNING, Montana, September 14, 2000 (ENS) - The Blackfeet Tribe of Montana and to the north the Peigan First Nation of Alberta have each placed their bets on wind power to generate energy for their peoples and for sale.

The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council and SeaWest WindPower, Inc. have signed a development agreement for the 22 megawatt (MW) Blackfeet I Wind Power Project.

This will be the first utility scale wind energy project built on tribal lands in the United States. The 22MW project will deliver affordable, clean, renewable energy by capturing the extremely strong winds that blow across the Blackfeet Reservation from the Rocky Mountain Front onto the Great Plains.

"This wind energy project will allow the Blackfeet Tribe to take advantage of one of our most plentiful natural resources on our Reservation. Gaining electricity from the winds here on the Reservation has been talked about for many years. We are gratified that this idea has finally become a reality," said Earl Old Person, chairman of the nine member Blackfeet Tribal Business Council which governs the Blackfeet Tribe.

"SeaWest is pleased to work with the Blackfeet to develop such a landmark project," said Jan Paulin, SeaWest's president and CEO.


Mountain on the Blackfeet lands. (Photo courtesy Blackfeet Nation)
"The Blackfeet have a tremendous wind and land resource. This project will tap that resource to create highly skilled employment opportunities on the Blackfeet Reservation and a true, commercially viable export industry. It is fitting that through this project the Blackfeet should assume a national leadership position in environmental stewardship," Paulin said.

The Blackfeet I project is scheduled to begin construction in May 2001, with commercial operation scheduled for October 2001. It will provide enough energy to electrify over 6,000 houses.

The Bonneville Power Administration is considering purchasing the power from the project through a long term power purchase agreement.

Power will be made available to the BPA, Glacier Electric Cooperative, other Montana Cooperatives, and Montana Power Company distribution customers.

Siyeh Development Corporation, the Blackfeet Tribe's for profit corporation, will work extensively with local agencies, contractors, and the surrounding community to coordinate the completion of this project with SeaWest.

"This is a great opportunity to showcase our local workforce, and train tribal members for long term technical jobs," said Dennis Fitzpatrick, Siyeh's general manager.


This 100-kW turbine is installed near Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana. In addition to providing electricity to the college, the turbine gives students experience using wind energy. (Photo by Martin Wilde courtesy Blackfeet Community College)
The Montana Power Company intends to award the project a $1.5 million production subsidy. The subsidy is funded through the company's Universal System Benefit Funds. In return the project will make available 3MW of capacity at a discounted rate to Montana Power Company distribution customers.

"This project is an excellent example of utilizing system benefit funds to create and stimulate economic development and renewable energy in Montana," said engineer David Ryan of Montana Power Company.

Glacier Electric has been serving the Blackfeet Reservation for over 50 years. General manager Bill Chapman said, "We are optimistic about this very important project, and will do all we can to help make it a success." Power produced by the wind generators will be fed across Glacier Electric's transmission lines.

SeaWest has developed over 85 megawatts of utility scale wind energy projects in the Foote Creek Rim area of Wyoming, in addition to nearly 500 megawatts of projects in California, the United Kingdom and Spain.

In Brocket, Alberta, the Peigan Nation expects to have four one MW Nordex wind turbines installed on its land by October, the first step in constructing a planned $200-million, 101 MW grid-connected wind farm, says project co-ordinator William Big Bull.

Peigan Utilities Inc. has formed a joint venture with Advanced Thermodynamics Corporation, which holds the licence to market Nordex turbines in Canada, and Sault Ste. Marie's Batchawana Band, he says.

The joint venture is named Weather-Dancer Wind Power, alluding to the last day in the Plains Indian Sundance when the weather dance is performed to pray for future good weather.


Peigan traditional dancer displays his talents. (Photo courtesy Napi Friendship Center)
Through Weather-Dancer, a facility to manufacture the turbines' tubular towers, as well as train workers to install and maintain turbines for the Peigan project and the "general market" is planned for the reserve, says Big Bull.

The Nordex N54 machines, which would be the largest to be installed in Canada, each have a rotor of 54 metres (175 feet) in diameter atop a 60 metre (195 foot) tower. The initial market for the power will be the Peigan reserve's own 3,000 residents, supplied through a Peigan administered rural electrification association.

"We've got within the Peigan Nation the capacity to use four MW of generation," says Big Bull. "We're going to be selling to the Alberta Power Pool, but because we have our own distribution, our own REA here, we're using that as the vehicle to develop the wind power project."

Big Bull says he cannot give a specific timeframe for installation of the rest of the 101 MW, explaining that turbines will be added as purchase contracts are signed.

The Peigans are looking to other First Nations communities in Canada and the United States as a potential market for the power and are getting a "very positive response."

They are also talking with the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development about the purchase of green power under the Federal Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business, an incentive program that commits the government to buying the products of First Nations businesses.

In addition to these specific niches, says Big Bull, "we're exploring the whole market. We're looking at offset credits. We're looking at industry. We've got a lot of doors to knock on."