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Wind energy blows into White Earth

WHITE EARTH, Minn. -- The White Earth Reservation is taking steps that will allow Mother Nature to amp up energy resources for residents living there.

A new wind turbine has recently been erected near the new Reservation Tribal Council Building on the outskirts of the town of White Earth.

The body of the turbine was put up in mid-December, and installers are working on putting the "guts" of the equipment in place.

Experts expect the turbine to be turning within a month and ready to transfer power within two months.

This is the last of three wind turbines being put up as part of this project on the reservation; the first two went up more than a year ago in Waubun and Naytahwaush.

Reservation officials said the wind turbine project has been in the works for about eight years and was made possible through an earmark obtained by U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and provided through the U.S. Department of Energy.

The federal grant will cover 80 percent of the cost, which means even for the $1.5 million wind turbine that will go up in White Earth, tribal funds to cover the rest will still be substantial.

"We were in an interesting situation because you can't just put turbines up anywhere, especially when federal funding is involved," said project planner Mike Triplett. "The process for environmental clearance is grueling -- just to get the environmental impact study done on this site, it was $100,000."

But Triplett added that despite the funds required upfront, it was a step reservation officials wanted to make as an investment going into the future.

Once the wind turbine begins kicking out energy, that energy will be sent to a nearby Minnkota-Wild Rice Electric substation that will then blend the incoming power with its own to serve the new, southwest side of the city.

That means the new Circle of Life Academy, the RTC building and the clinic will all benefit from the turbine. So too will the reservation.

"We will be getting paid for that power from the utility company," said Triplett, who expects the White Earth turbine to generate roughly $50,000 a year in energy.

That's much more than what the first two turbines are able to generate, which Triplett estimates at $6,000 a year.

"The unit at White Earth has a greater capacity and greater output," Triplett said. "The ones in Waubun and Naytahwaush are 50 kW and this one is 750 kW."

Although the amount of energy produced will vary greatly from day to day, it's estimated that it will take at least 10 years for the reservation to recoup its investment, which is only one among several on the docket.

"Right now we're negotiating with (the Department of Energy) on another project in putting a biomass boiler in the Shooting Star to offset $500,000 in fuel oil and propane," said Triplett, explaining that they would then use wood chips from areas to the east of the reservation like Park Rapids and Bemidji to fuel the casino. "And that'll pay for itself in only a few years."

Three solar projects also were completed early last fall l, as solar electric heating was installed in the Head Start building, fire station and the Circle Back treatment facility at White Earth.

Tags: white earth mn, wind energy, energy, updates


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