Wind harnessed for reservation electricity

North Dakota State Roundup

Published January 1, 1996  | January 1996 issue

The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and the University of North Dakota's Energy and Environmental Research Center (EERC) have joined to study the use of wind energy to power the reservation.

The Chippewa Tribe will receive nearly $250,000 from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, Colo., as part of a U.S. Department of Energy program to develop Native American energy resources. Sites have been selected for meteorologic towers and the installation of a utility-grade wind turbine to help acquaint the tribe with wind energy technology and to determine the feasibility of building a larger-scale wind power plant.

The Wildlife Management Department at Turtle Mountain Community College in Belcourt will conduct an environmental impact assessment on how local wildlife populations might be affected by a wind plant.

North Dakota is often called the Saudi Arabia of wind energy because the trade winds from Canada are predictable and strong. About 36 percent of America's potential wind energy is found in the state, according to the EERC, leading wind energy proponents to see great potential.

That's what makes the idea so appealing to the tribe, which hopes to fuel reservation industries with its own wind energy, according to Anita Blue, Turtle Mountain tribal planner and project manager. "We want to use as much of our own natural resources as possible," Blue says. Currently, the reservation, located in the north central part of the state is served by three electric companies.

"North Dakota has more wind energy than anyone else in the country," says Jay Haley, EERC research engineer for the project, "but who are you going to sell it to?" Haley says because North Dakota is somewhat geographically remote, wide commercial transmission of wind energy is unlikely. But a large collective entity, such as the reservation, might find it economically feasible to use wind energy, Haley adds.

Construction on the first turbine will begin in January, and the energy from that will be used to power the reservation's water treatment plant.

And while wind energy may be a good idea for organizations like Turtle Mountain, Haley says wind will likely never be more than 10 percent of the mix of all sources of energy and will certainly not replace traditional energy sources, such as coal. "Even in California where most of the country's wind turbines are located, wind accounts for only about 1 percent or 2 percent of the total energy generated," Haley says.

Kathy Cobb