In an unprecedented move, six Sioux tribes are coming together to develop the largest wind farm in the US and one of the world’s largest.
The six South Dakota tribes want to develop an interconnected grid of wind farms totaling a massive 1-2 gigawatts (GW) of capacity, over at least six reservations.
Funding for the project, which will cost between $1.75 billion to $3 billion, would come from the sale of bonds by a new Multi-Tribal Power Authority.
The project was revealed during the Clinton Global Initiative last month. "It gives Native tribes who aren't in populous areas and don't have casino revenue a chance to earn some real money that can then be used to reinvest into the community to diversify the economic base that exists," said President Clinton at the event, according to SF Gate.
"This project completely changes the model for developing wind power in the US," says former North Dakota Senator Dorgan and tribal leaders in an editorial.
Rather than using "expensive" private equity, where investors would own the project and expect double-digit returns, issuing bonds taps the most cost-effective finance available (rates are at all-time lows) and keeps it in tribal hands.
"This will be a "first" in many respects," they say: "the first use of public power bonds in a project of this type; the first time multiple Tribes have cooperated in an economic development project of this size and scope; the first new joint municipal power authority formed in the U.S. in decades. And it will be a market driven initiative - start-up costs will be funded by private grants and investments, and the Project development costs will be fully funded by Power Authority bonds. The Project will not rely on federal tax credits. It is our hope that this Project may become a model for the development of wind power and other forms of renewable energy across the U.S., both on and off Native Lands."
The editorial continues:
All of our Tribes suffer from an unacceptable level of poverty and joblessness, and so economic development is a central concern. The development of utility-scale wind power, supplemented with hydropower, will enable us to provide for the well being of our people by generating sustainable economic and community development, jobs and training opportunities in a way that is consistent with our cherished beliefs, traditional ways of life, and rich cultural traditions.
Moreover, developing our renewable energy resources will make a significant contribution in addressing the global crisis in climate change. Together, our Tribes cover 16% of the total land area of South Dakota, and have the capacity to develop as much as 58 GW of power while producing zero emissions.
By producing at least 1-2 GW, our Project will more than double the installed wind-power capacity in South Dakota (currently only 784 MW) and add 2-3% to the total amount of wind power generated in the United States. We are honored to have this opportunity to pursue our sacred trust as responsible stewards of the earth, not only on the Mother Land of our tribes, but also as members of the global community."
Still, there are formidable obstacles. Given South Dakota's limited demand for power, expensive transmission lines will have to built to carry the power out of state and they will likely need to look outside the state find one or more power purchasers.
The six tribes are Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, and Yankton Sioux Tribe.
Other tribes are also looking in the same direction. A much smaller project is in the planning stage in Oklahoma, also bringing together five tribes, led by Cherokee Nation.
Read their full editorial: