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Going 'green' in White Earth

Workers install a wind turbine at Native Harvest in Callaway on the site of the former elementary school. (Courtney Sinner/DL Newspapers)

If you've driven north on Highway 59 through Callaway in the last few weeks, you may have noticed a tall tower just to the north of town. Wondering what it is?

It's the beginning of a wind turbine, which will be up and spinning in another few weeks -- a project a year in the making for the White Earth Land Recovery Project and executives at Honor the Earth, another similar non-profit organization that often works with WELRP.

It's not the only energy-sustainable project that's been in the works around White Earth: a solar heating program has been gaining ground for a while, and the programs are helping other American Indian tribes with their own initiatives.

With the wind turbine project, WELRP and HTE's Executive Director Winona LaDuke said they received grants from Citgo Petroleum and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community.

In its entirety, the project cost just more than $150,000 -- but WELRP will end up making some money eventually, since it's working on an interconnect agreement with Otter Tail Power to hook into the power grid and sell the energy they generate back to the company via a power purchase agreement that's still in the works.

That money is planned to help fund a second turbine next to this one.

The wind turbine, a Loland 75 kilowatt turbine, will power the entire building next to it, said Nellis Kennedy, HTE's national campaign associate. That building is the old Callaway elementary school, which now houses the offices for WELRP and HTE, among others.

Not only will the turbine help power the building, it's being built and maintained by young tribal members, LaDuke said. Some young workers have been earning their "windsmithing" certificates.

In the process, WELRP and HTE have also been able to aid other tribes with the tools to build their own turbines, Kennedy said.

"We definitely consider by doing this, that we gain knowledge capitol," she said. "We've already had other tribes asking how we did it."

With the solar program, WELRP, along with HTE and an ongoing partnership with Henry Red Cloud and Lakota Solar Enterprises, has had a hand in installing 10 solar air heaters on to homes.

These little devices, only a few inches thick, sit on the south side of a house and can help reduce energy bills significantly -- up to 40 percent, Kennedy said.

They work by drawing cool air from the house into the heating panel, which heats up the air with the energy from the sun. When the air reaches a certain temperature, the air is pushed back into the house.

They're different from solar panels, which produce electricity rather than heat.

White Earth youth with disabilities can even take part in learning about this green technology through a new grant by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

For White Earth tribal members and organization executives, these sustainable initiatives are all about keeping the jobs local, the money local, and the energy local -- and in a few weeks, they'll have another high-standing reminder of what the hard work brings in a spinning wind turbine.