PINE RIDGE, SOUTH DAKOTA resident Alex White Plume and his family are trying to "bring every form of alternative economic development" to the reservation, he says. This includes raising hormone-free beef cattle and hemp crops (which government officials have destroyed twice). And wind energy.
In September 2002, instead of their usual fall harvest, White Plume's family installed an 86-foot-tall wind turbine on their land that generates up to 1,000 watts of energy when the wind is blowing, enough to power a local community center and sell clean energy back to the local grid.
"We had a little ceremony, flicked the switch, and everything worked," said White Plume, who is 55 and "still tougher than hell."
Wind energy is poised to be the wave--or, more aptly, gust--of the future for native reservations across the U.S. Great Plains, Midwestern and Southwestern reservations are located on some of the country's windiest tracts. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates wind energy potential on tribal land as 535 billion kilowatt hours per year, while the U.S. generates a total of about 3,853 billion kilowatt hours per year, according to the International Energy Association.
A growing number of small wind turbines like White Plume's have popped up on native land, powering schools, community centers or small clusters of buildings.
And a movement is underway to create more utility-scale wind turbines like the 750-kilowatt, 195-foot-tall one on the Rosebud reservation, just southeast of Pine Ridge, erected in 2003. That turbine, dubbed "Little Soldier," had a five-year contract that recently expired to supply power to a nearby Air Force base; now it is powering the tribe's casino, truck stop and motel. Though many tribal members may not consider military bases and casinos to be the type of development they want to encourage and fuel, wind turbines can also literally power or serve indirectly as a revenue source for more alternative and autonomous ventures. The "Little …