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Reservation installs two turbines

Two wind turbines were installed on the White Earth Reservation -- one in Waubun and one in Naytahwaush. Submitted Photo1 / 2
Crews installed the wind turbines in carefully selected places, where they wouldn't disturb wildlife but that they would be able to utilize as much wind as possible. They are expected to be up and running around the beginning of the year. Submitted Photo2 / 2

The White Earth Tribe will soon be harvesting wind energy on the reservation.

Thanks mostly to a federal grant through the Department of Energy, two wind turbines have been installed to help shrink the energy-usage footprint left on the reservation -- one in Naytahwaush and one just south of Waubun.

A congressional appropriation (earmark) led to the Reservation receiving nearly $2 million for the project; the tribe kicked in an additional $500,000.

Installers arrived on White Earth at the end of September to build the foundation and returned a month later to assemble the lattice towers.

Unlike the gigantic, tubular wind turbines more common to the area now, these look more like old-fashioned wind mills with three support legs similar to a tripod.

"They're less expensive and far better in terms of the wind because they don't distract the wind resource as a solid tube would," said Mike Triplett, one of White Earth's planners for the wind turbine project.

With 140 feet worth of piping each, the wind turbines stand 140 feet tall with 30-foot blades and a diameter (or blade sweep) of 60 feet.

Triplett says the Waubun turbine is expected to meet all of the energy needs of the Ojibwe Building Supply, plus sell excess energy back into the grid. (Both are located in a Wild Rice service area.)

The Naytahwaush unit is expected to "supply a significant part of the electric load when running and on an annual basis," according to Triplett, who says power will go to the Naytahwush Humanities buildings, a group of tribal buildings which will be tied into the wind turbines. It's not expected to power the buildings entirely, but should put a big dent in the power-usage.

"It's hard to predict this sort of thing, but at least 20 percent of the power at least," said Triplett, "but hopefully more. It really depends on the wind."

Triplett says both units are capable of producing approximately 9,000-12,000 kwh of energy, or roughly $675 to $900 at $.075 per kwh, but everything depends on the wind.

The locations of the wind turbines were carefully selected, as Triplett says it's quite difficult to find the right piece of land for equipment like this. In fact, it took over five years for reservation officials to finally get the stamp of approval from the Federal government, which has tightened environmental regulations for wind turbines over the years.

"There has to be a tremendous amount of studies done before putting one of these up -- a study on the migratory birds to make sure it's not in their path; it can't be near a lake where birds might like to go; there are a lot of wetlands and state and federal wildlife refuge areas, and so these are all red flags when doing environmental projects," said Triplett, who says the land also needs to be elevated and wide open as buildings and trees will disturb wind flow.

It's the wind coming from the prairies of the west side of the Reservation that officials are hoping will blow in some environmental and financial relief.

Although the wind turbines are up, electricians still have some work left to do. They're expected to begin turning by the first of the year, if not sooner.

"It stimulates interest in green technology, and energy efficiency is the big thing right now" said Triplett, "and projects don't have to be huge; there's new work that can be done in that area, and we're all about doing that."