“Go big, and you’ll get our attention.” This advice offered by a potential investor resonated deeply for Lyle Jack, chairman of the Oglala Sioux tribe and a staunch advocate of the potential for wind energy development on Native American reservations across the Great Plains.
Jack and the leaders of five other Sioux tribes from South Dakota took that tip to heart. They’ve created a collaborative partnership that is behind the largest clean energy project by far attempted on American Indian land: 570 megawatts of combined generating capacity between two wind farms sited in the state.
Both installations, being developed at an estimated $800 million, are expected to begin operating in 2021. That means they’ll qualify for 80 percent of the production tax credit. Next step for the Native American business collaborative behind them: Sign up buyers for the renewable power they’ll add to the Southwest Power Pool, including big companies looking for unique power purchase agreement (PPA) opportunities.
By thinking big, the Sioux tribes put themselves on the radar of potential investors. But in defining the structure for this ambitious initiative, they bucked another common piece of advice of many typical solar and wind developers: Rather than accepting a role as a passive partner, they’re developing the projects on their own terms through a unique joint venture with Apex Clean Energy.
In fact, the tribes are the majority owner, with a 51 percent stake in the business created with Apex to develop the farms, 7G Renewable Energy. (The name comes from a Sioux ideal that holds that decisions and actions should take into account the well-being of people seven generations into the future.) Apex owns 49 percent of the joint venture.”Many of the investors and developers want to own and control the projects. That’s not what the tribes wanted,” Jack recalled.
That conviction gave birth to the Oceti Sakowin Power Authority (OSPA), a six-tribe collective that views wind energy as a path to reinvigorate economic development on tribal lands, to create career opportunities for the next generation and to establish a long-term source of regular income. (Oceti Sakowin means “Great Sioux Nation.”)
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