Reforms help tribes get into the renewable energy business

Some of South Dakota’s prime locations for wind power are on tribal lands. Graphic by Robin Decaire for Midwest Energy News

In past, I’ve blogged about the possibilities for wind energy in South Dakota (here and here). We have the fifth-highest wind energy potential in the country, and every two megawatts of wind energy produced so far has created $22,000 in personal income and one full-time job for our state. It looks like reforms to Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) land leasing laws is helping the tribes who share SD’s geography to tap into that potential:

[T]he new Bureau of Indian Affairs rules…reforms, which go into effect Jan. 4, give more power to tribal governments to negotiate and execute lease agreements and speed up the process, something that has stymied wind projects in Indian Country.

Among other things, the BIA now will defer to tribal governments in negotiating lease values, rather than requiring outside appraisals, and it will have to meet deadlines for reviewing the agreements.

If the BIA doesn’t act on a lease agreement within a specific time frame — 30 or 60 days, depending on the type of lease — it is approved automatically.

South Dakota Secretary of Tribal Relations J.R. LaPlante called the reforms “monumental.”

“When it comes to the use of tribal trust lands, it’s a very slow and tedious process. … This law really gives the tribe a lot more decision-making authority in how they use those lands,” he said.

This is great news for the Rosebud Lakota, who would like to develop two utility-scale wind projects on the Rosebud Reservation, and the Oglala, who would like to develop the Oglala Sioux Nation Power Authority, a project that could produce as much as a gigawatt of wind energy.

There are still obstacles, as there almost always are when it comes to tribal affairs. Due to their status as sovereign nations, tribes are tax-exempt. This keeps them from taking advantage of the Production Tax Credit, which many see as integral to fostering growth in the wind industry. Moreover, many outside developers find the idea of having to negotiate  state, federal, and tribal law in order to secure contracts a risky venture. And according to Ken Haukaas, who helped develop some of the Rosebud’s prospective wind projects, “If you don’t qualify for the PTC, unless you have the capital to build a merchant plant and sell it on the open market (without a power purchase agreement), it’s hard to make any money,”

My sense is that SD’s reservations don’t have the necessary start-up money to do that, seeing as how they’re structurally impoverished by centuries of conquest and crooked dealings. And so now the Lakota find themselves dependent on outside investors to grow their reservation economies after having those same economies effectively pillaged since the 1860s.

However perverse it might be for the Lakota (who get the concept of “sustainability” at a much deeper level than most of those for whom it has become the latest buzzword) to have to chase after big wind money, these changes to the BIA are at least a positive step toward bringing much-needed development to the Rez, and doing it in an environmentally responsible way to boot. But I’m nagged by the notion that perhaps we (as in the dominant Anglo-American establishment) simply owe our Lakota friends a few wind farms gratis, if no more than that…

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About sdpeacejustice

The SD Peace & Justice Center connects a grassroots network of South Dakotans working for social justice and against violence and oppression.
This entry was posted in Environmental Justice, News, Tribal Sovereignty & Native Issues. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Reforms help tribes get into the renewable energy business

  1. Pingback: Wind production tax credit extended | A Mighty Flood of Justice

  2. Pingback: Kristi Noem: Dilbit, baby, Dilbit! | A Mighty Flood of Justice

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