Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
September 23, 2000 - Issue 19

Blackfeet Begin to Build State’s First Wind Farm

The Blackfeet Tribe is teaming up with one of the nation’s leading wind power companies to build Montana’s first commercial wind farm.

SeaWest WindPower, an 18-year-old company based in San Diego, has developed wind projects that produce 544 megawatts of electricity in Wyoming, California, the United Kingdom and Spain.

SeaWest’s 22-megawatt power project with the Blackfeet will generate enough electricity for more than 6,000 homes.

“The Blackfeet have a tremendous wind and land resource,” SeaWest President Jan Paulin said. “This project will tap that resource to create highly skilled employment opportunities on the Blackfeet Reservation and a true, commercially viable export industry.”

Tribal officials, who began dabbling in wind power in 1996, said a pair of demonstration projects in Browning have proven that wind power is feasible and profitable. Because of its proximity to the Rocky Mountains, the reservation has an average annual wind speed of 20 miles per hour, making it one of the most productive areas for wind power in North America.

“Gaining electricity from the winds here on the reservation has been talked about for many years,” Tribal Chairman Earl Old Person said. “We are gratified that this idea has finally become a reality.”

Construction on at least 15 turbines will begin in May, and is expected to cost up to $8 million. The turbines’ location has not yet been determined, but construction will employ about 30 workers for six months next year.

The project will provide four or five permanent jobs in the Browning area and an estimated $250,000 per year to the tribal government once operation is underway in October 2001.

Under a tentative agreement, the Blackfeet wind farm will provide energy at less than five cents per kilowatt-hour to the Bonneville Power Administration in Oregon, Glacier Electric Cooperative in Browning and the Montana Power Co.

Industry watchers say the new wind farm is an excellent beginning in harnessing Montana’s winds, which until now have been untapped as a commercial energy source. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Montana’s winds have the potential to produce 116,000 megawatts of electricity.

”(The Blackfeet project) is not a huge power source, but as a wind farm, it’s a great start,” said David Westine, associate professor of general engineering at Montana Tech in Butte. “It’s a very manageable entry for Montana into wind energy. I think there is a future in it just because it’s nonpolluting and it’s a renewable energy source.”

Westine predicts that the federal government someday will require power companies to generate a portion of their electricity from “green” sources such as wind, thus reducing the demand for coal and nuclear power. Already, the U.S. Department of Energy hopes green energy will account for at least 10,000 megawatts of the country’s consumption by 2010.

Nationwide, wind energy is emerging as an alternative energy source that many customers say they’d pay extra to use. In 1980, wind turbines generated fewer than 10 megawatts; today, they generate approximately 2,650 megawatts – enough to power more than 1 million households.

American Wind Energy Association



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