Interior Approves Large-Scale Wind Energy Project on Arizona Public Lands

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

On June 28, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the approval of a major wind energy project in Arizona that, when built, will provide up to 500 megawatts to the electricity grid—enough energy to power up to 175,000 houses—and create approximately 750 jobs through construction and operations.

The project advances President Obama’s comprehensive plan to reduce carbon pollution and move the country’s economy toward domestic-made clean energy sources, thus hopefully slowing the effects of climate change.

As part of his comprehensive climate action plan, Obama challenged the U.S. Department of the Interior to approve an additional 10,000 above the original goal of 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy production on public lands by 2020.

The project, proposed by BP Wind Energy North America, Inc., would erect up to 243 wind turbines on federal lands for the Mohave County Wind Farm, which would be located in northwestern Arizona about 40 miles northwest of Kingman.

“These are exactly the kind of responsible steps that we need to take to expand homegrown, clean energy on our public lands and cut carbon pollution that affects public health,” said Secretary Jewell. “This wind energy project shows that reducing our carbon pollution can also generate jobs and cut our reliance on foreign oil.”

With this recent announcement, Interior has approved 46 wind, solar and geothermal utility-scale projects on public lands since 2009, including associated transmission corridors and infrastructure to connect to established power grids. When built, these projects could provide enough electricity to power more than 4.4 million homes and support over 17,000 construction and operations jobs.

Interior’s Bureau of Land Management has identified an additional 14 active renewable energy proposals slated for review this year and next. The Bureau recognized these projects through a process that emphasizes early consultation and collaboration with its sister agencies at Interior—the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service—demonstrating President Obama’s and Interior’s ongoing commitment to “smart from the start” planning.

The decision to approve the Mohave County Wind Farm paves the way for right-of-way grants for use of approximately 35,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management land and 2,800 acres of Bureau of Reclamation land.

The company agreed to undertake significant mitigation efforts to minimize impacts to wildlife and other resources, including reducing the project’s footprint by about 20 percent from the original proposal. The smaller footprint will protect golden eagle habitat and reduce visual and noise impacts to the Lake Mead National Recreational Area. In particular, the Interior’s decision bars the installation of turbines within designated sensitive areas to avoid golden eagle nesting locations, as well as provides for a 1.2-mile buffer zone to protect the nests.

Additionally, no turbine will be closer than a quarter-mile to private property. “The project reflects exemplary cooperation between our Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation and other federal, state and local agencies, enabling a thorough environmental review and robust mitigation provisions,” said Bureau of Land Management Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze. “This decision represents a responsible balance between the need for renewable energy and our mandate to protect the public’s natural resources.”

“I added my signature of approval for this vital project on the same week that President Obama challenged Interior to intensify its development of clean, renewable energy,” Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor said. “Reclamation’s hydropower resources are a centerpiece of the nation’s renewable energy strategy. We are pleased to also play a significant role in this important wind energy project.”



Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Global Initiative Ups Support of Tribes

Rob Capriccioso, Indian Country Today Media Network

On June 15, Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) announced plans to promote and help six South Dakota tribes develop a joint wind energy project. The tribes are the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate and the Yankton Sioux Tribe; the project will ultimately see them place several wind turbines on their reservations in an effort to create electricity to sell on the open market.

“It has always bothered me that the green energy revolution has escaped the tribal lands by and large,” President Bill Clinton said at a June 15 event hosted by the foundation in Chicago. “Those who live on tribal lands without casinos still have the lowest per capita income in the country. The potential of this is staggering.”

The tribes are raising funds and increasing financial capacity to make their vision happen, so the promotion by CGI at this early stage is important, organizers say. The project is estimated to cost up to $3 billion, and this money is supposed to be raised by a power authority that will be formed and owned by the tribes.

Clinton said this was a “favorite commitment” of his because it stands to benefit both poor tribes and America at large.

While the Clintons have gone out of their way to say that their foundation work is not political, their new and increased outreach to tribes on renewable energy is seen as a positive sign for tribal advocates who hope to curry favor in 2016 and beyond. And for the Clintons and their allies, tribal contributions and Indian votes are always attractive.

Bob Gough, a leader with the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy, is one who looks favorably on “a new and growing relationship with CGI and Indian country,” saying that Hillary Clinton “has been an ally for years.” He noted that his organization has previously worked with her on tribal wind power issues to seek a change in tax policy to help tribes in this area.

Gough noted, too, that his organization has worked with CGI since 2005 and helped offset half of the carbon footprint of the foundation’s first meeting. He has met twice with President Clinton, who has said during these meetings that he wishes he could have done more as President for tribal communities.

Hillary Clinton, who left her position as Secretary of State with the Obama administration on February 1, joined the Clinton family foundation just a few days before the CGI tribal announcement. In her opening speech at the CGI conference where the tribal announcement was made, she identified three major areas that she would focus on—early childhood development, economic development and opportunities for women and girls.

“The Oceti Sakowin Wind Project fits perfectly with this focus, so regardless of whether she again seeks public office, we hope that she will continue to champion policies that will spur economic development in Indian country,” said Jon Canis, a lawyer with Arent Fox who has worked pro bono for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Finding ways for the federal government to work with tribal governments on renewable energy projects has been a major focus of some tribes throughout the Obama administration to date, and many would like to see increased work done in this area in future administrations.

Canis noted that President Clinton was the first sitting president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to visit a reservation when he visited Pine Ridge in 1999, and Hillary Clinton campaigned strongly for the Native vote in 2008. He said that he is hopeful the new CGI support signifies an understanding of the importance of building a strong economic base for tribes.

“We hope that whoever may run in the 2016 election will work hard to gain the trust and support of Indian country and pursue policies that promote economic development on rural tribal lands,” Canis added.

Canis said the Clintons have a standing invitation to visit any of the reservations of the participating tribes. “Now that the Oceti Sakowin Wind Project is a featured commitment with CGI America, we will submit progress reports every six months, and will be invited to attend the next conference to report in person. As progress on this project continues, we hope it will cause many dignitaries, including the Clintons, to visit the tribes to see for themselves.”