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Native American Interview: Robert Gough, Intertribal Council on Utility Policy (COUP)

Robert Gough receives the U.S. DOE Wind Energy Program Outstanding Technology Acceptance Award 2004. Left to right: Peter Goldman, DOE; Pat Spears, ICOUP; Robert Gough, ICOUP; Tony Jimenez, WPA; Larry Flowers, WPA; Robert Thresher, NREL. PIX13341

Native American Interview: Robert Gough, Intertribal Council on Utility Policy (COUP)

Date: 12/1/2004

Location: SD

Q. How did you become interested in wind for Native America?

A. Tribes receiving Western Area Power Association (WAPA) hydropower allocations were required to conduct integrated resource planning for all of their energy resources. I was the acting director of the Rosebud Tribal Utility Commission in 1995, and we arranged for an 18-month anemometer study of the Rosebud wind resource at the Tribal casino site. That study revealed a phenomenal wind resource on the Rosebud. In 1998, following the Native Peoples/Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop, reservation-based renewable energy was seen as a no-regrets strategy for Tribal energy self-sufficiency and for addressing global warming. The Northern Great Plains reservations have more than 200 gigawatts of clean wind energy potential. This is far more than needed to meet local demand, and it could help to power the country from the Great Plains.

Q. How long did the Rosebud project take?

A. The project required eight years, from installation of the anemometer to commission of the turbine. Following the 18 months of data collection and analysis, the search for funding began. In 1998, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) solicitation offered a 50% match for a commercial utility-scale project. Because we had actual wind data pegging the resource at 18 mph, the Rosebud grant proposal for a $1 million project was highly competitive. The Tribe wanted to own the project completely, so it took some time to find the Tribe's required 50% match. We ultimately looked to the USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) for a loan for the balance of the project. Since this was the first time the RUS was asked to fund a Tribal utility-scale renewable energy project, additional time was required to qualify for the loan. We were very conscious of using the single turbine project to learn as much as we could about the energy industry and regional electrical utility grid system to pave the way for larger projects following this one. We tried to jump through as many hoops as possible so that there would be fewer surprises later when interconnecting a bigger project to the grid.

Q. What crucial elements are required for Tribes to capture wind energy?

A. Tribes interested in pursuing wind energy projects require four crucial elements: wind resource, technology, market, and transmission. The wind resource should reflect high average annual wind speeds of greater consistency and duration with reliability in daily and seasonal frequency and direction. Using efficient technologies—including taller towers and larger generators—reduces the cost of the power. A market for Tribal wind power must precede project development, and transmission facilities must exist to carry the power to market. The more favorable each of these four crucial elements is, the less expensive the cost of the generated wind power will be.

Q. What national policy reform is needed to encourage tribal wind development?

A. The playing field for the full range of energy resources needs to be level so that all of their costs and contributions are considered. Fossil fuel extraction costs are heavily subsidized by the taxpayers, and the price of pollution, legislated caps on insurance liability, unproven long-term nuclear waste storage proposals, and impacts on public health and environmental quality are put on society's collective tab. Other uncounted costs of our conventional power plant system include water consumption and heightened national security issues. In the future, we can add another item to the list: Emerging estimates for anticipated extreme weather-related disasters attributed to the rapid acceleration of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

In today's markets, even without taking into account the societal costs of conventional power or the benefits of wind power, wind generation is competitive with new coal and gas projects.

Q. What ownership models appear most attractive for Tribal development?

A. Tribal ownership and intertribal ownership are most attractive for Tribal development. Intertribal COUP and the Rosebud Tribe have joined forces to sponsor an environmental justice community revitalization plan to develop Tribal wind resources on the Great Plains. The plan has five distinct phases: Pilot (the 750-kW utility-scale tribally owned turbine at the Rosebud); Demonstration (a 30- to 50-MW tribally owned project at the Rosebud); Distribution (an 80-MW distributed generation intertribal-owned project of 10-MW clusters on up to eight reservations with tall-tower data, while the remaining reservations collect data); Expansion (10-MW projects to 50- to 150-MW projects at each site); and Replication (on other Great Plains reservations).

Q. You've traveled extensively and visited with Tribal leaders. What concerns do they have over wind development on their lands?

A. The Tribes welcome the benefits that wind energy can bring, but they're also concerned about the potential impacts on wildlife (eagles, hawks, and prairie chickens) and habitat and the visual impacts in placement and siting. Wind turbines reach into the sky higher than the length of a football field, and in places like the Northern Plains and the Southwest, they can be seen for 10-20 miles away in parts of the landscape that might rarely see something taller than a cottonwood or a Ponderosa pine. For example, the 750-kW turbine at Rosebud is probably the tallest structure, besides communication towers, west of the Missouri River in South Dakota. To give you a sense of scale, on most Indian reservations a second-story building is a rarity. So how and why turbines fit into an ancestral landscape is an important concern to be addressed.

This information was last updated on August 02, 2011