Wind energy works for Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes

The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes are working with a Kansas company on a wind farm project, with the goal to have tribal operations completely powered by renewable energy. Plans call for 22 100-kilowatt wind turbines to be erected on tribal land located near the Lucky Star Casino in Concho by the end of the first quarter of 2012, said Scott Brantley, the CEO of Otis, Kan.-based West Wind Energy LLC.

Chester Whiteman, the tribes’ director of economic development, said using the 102-foot-tall wind turbines could save the tribes as much as $9.2 million during the next 40 years. He said the tribes now spend more than $200,000 a month for electricity, some of that for generators that help power the casino.

The first two wind turbines will be built by the end of September, Brantley said, and will power the tribe’s smoke shop along U.S. Highway 81 and the tribal headquarters complex. The other 20 wind turbines will be used to power the casino. The 22 wind turbines together will produce about 2.2 megawatts.

Eventually, Whiteman said, the tribes hope to build more wind turbines near Clinton to power a casino, a hospital and other tribal operations located there. "We want the energy produced here to reduce the carbon footprint of our tribes," Whiteman said.

The blades for the first wind turbine to be built sat Thursday in a field across from the casino, as a gusty south wind blew across the mostly rural area. "It’s a beautiful location to put wind turbines up," Brantley said. "If you look at it, it’s perfect. You couldn’t ask for a better spot."

Fifty-five percent of the cost of the wind power project is being paid for through grants the tribes received by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Whiteman said.

Although a handful of Oklahoma-based tribes have explored the use of wind energy in recent years — including the Kaw Nation, the Iowa Tribe, the Cherokee Nation and the Comanche Nation — Cheyenne-Arapaho officials believe their tribes will be the first to have a wind farm on their land. If any electricity generated by the wind turbines is left over after meeting the tribes’ needs, it can be sold, Whiteman said.

Commercial wind farms are becoming more commonplace in Oklahoma. The state has 13 operational wind farms and four more are under construction, said Kylah McNabb, a wind development specialist with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.

Brantley said his company would like to train tribal members to work on maintaining the turbines once they’re operational. He also hopes to build a turbine manufacturing plant on tribal land within the next two years. Whiteman said it could employ as many as 35 people.

"It’s something, because the wind power industry is growing very rapidly, that West Wind is going to be having to move into this market down here in Oklahoma," Brantley said. "It has been discussed. … It’s an expensive process. "We’re really excited about it. Because of the expanding market, the way wind energy is moving, electricity prices are elevating, Oklahoma is a fantastic place to move into. Look at the wind."

American Indians long have harnessed the wind, tribal Gov. Janice Boswell said, and the tribes’ project extends that legacy. "We believe the wind is sacred," she said. "We are the Keepers of the Earth, so bringing the power of wind to our people is key to our survival and a part of honoring our instructions."