With Interior Department Funding, Native American Tribe Could Soon Build A Billion-Dollar Wind Farm

By Katie Valentine, Think Progess

Twenty-one tribal energy and mineral projects just got a boost from the Department of Interior, including multiple projects to advance renewable energy on tribal land.

On Friday, the Interior Department announced the 21 tribal projects that would share in $3.2 million worth of federal grants. The projects include 13 proposals for renewable energy, including wind, hydropower and biomass. The recipients also include two oil and gas extraction projects and six projects focused on extracting limestone and other minerals.

“These grants are about strengthening self-determination and self-governance by enabling tribal nations to evaluate and promote their energy and mineral assets, negotiate the best agreements with partners or investors and develop these resources for the social and economic benefit of their communities,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a release

Not all of the tribes know how much money they’ll receive yet, but renewable projects accounted for the largest chunk of grant money at $1,972,350 for the 13 proposals. One of the tribes to receive grant money is the Crow Creek Sioux tribe in South Dakota, which has plans to build a billion-dollar wind farm. Crow Creek leaders hope the farm will provide free electricity to the 2,000 tribe members that live on the reservation and also generate electricity that the tribe could sell to nearby towns. If the tribe gets enough funding to build the project, leaders say it could produce enough energy to power 100,000 to 400,000 homes.

“We never hardly hear good news,” tribe Chairman Brandon Sazue told the Rapid City Journal of the tribe’s grant. “This was one of the greatest pieces of news I have heard since being chairman for Crow Creek.”

The tribe hopes to secure funding in time to start constructing the 150-160 turbine wind farm in early 2016.

Another initiative that secured Department of Interior funding is Montana’s Crow Tribe, which will receive $655,000 to build a hydroelectric facility at an existing dam on their reservation. That project would also provide power to reservation residents and would have the potential of supplying power outside of the reservation as well.

The grants are helping fund some projects that, if completed, would be one of only a few of their kind on tribal lands. There’s only one tribal-run wind farm in the U.S. so far — the Kumeyaay wind farm in California, which produces enough energy to power about 30,000 homes. The Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma is also working to build a 90-turbine wind farm, but that project hasn’t been completed yet. Government initiatives are looking to jump-start renewable energy on tribal land, however — in 2012 the Department of Energy gave away more than $6.5 million to 19 renewable energy projects on tribal lands, and in 2013 the DOE gave $7 million to nine tribes for wind, biomass and solar projects.