Blackfeet bet on wind

 

MONTANA

Montana's Blackfeet Nation is a step ahead in the race to generate new, renewable sources of power. Using two of its most abundant natural resources - land and wind - the 15,000-member tribe is partnering with a private wind-power firm to build the first large-scale wind-energy project on tribal land. Blackfeet WindPower One is expected to have a 55 megawatt power capacity, enough juice to illuminate more than 20,000 homes throughout the Northwest.

"So long as we've got the land, I'm glad we can do something with it," says Earl Old Person, chairman of the tribe. "I think it's going to be of help as economics are concerned, and we will be able to help others with what we generate."

Currently, the community suffers from a 70 percent unemployment rate in the winter off-season. Dennis Fitzpatrick, general manager of Siyeh Development, says the project will create up to 40 temporary construction jobs and as many as seven permanent positions. The Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency which redirects power from the dams on the Columbia River, plans to sign a 20-year purchase agreement for the electricity.

Brison Ellinghaus, of SeaWest WindPower, the tribe's business partner, sees wind power as "an excellent program for promotion of rural economic development," and says that tribes from California and Canada have already contacted his company about similar projects. The industry will get an additional boost from Montana's recently passed wind-energy law, which offers tax incentives for projects developed on tribal lands.

Impacts on local wildlife and migrating birds will be evaluated in a 12-month Environmental Impact Statement. If the project is approved, construction is slated to begin in the summer of 2002.