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White Plume Family Takes Advantage of Elements on Pine Ridge

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  • White Plume Family Takes Advantage of Elements on Pine Ridge

    Family Takes Advantage of Elements
    by David Melmer - Indian Country Today
    13 September 2005

    MANDERSON, S.D. - The first family in Indian country to install wind and solar electrical power sources without government assistance has taken one step closer to self-sufficiency.

    Alex White Plume, vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, made good on a dream he had some 26 years ago: to rid his family of high-cost cooperative electrical power from local companies. With the installation of a 1 kilowatt wind generator and a 1 kW solar-generated power system, White Plume's brother, Percy, will be the first person connected to the power source, and will be virtually free of electrical bills.

    While there are several examples of tribally owned power generation systems, the White Plume system is the first for a family that is privately funded. The White Plume family is also the first family to become members of the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy, according to Pat Spears, president.

    White Earth has a 20 kW turbine in operation. The Hopi installed small units for its membership; however, trouble with the turbines hampered electrical production for sustained periods. And the Navajo Nation purchased many small turbines for its tribal members.

    White Plume said when he was first married, neither he nor his wife had jobs. They struggled to pay monthly electric bills for the first two years. Some months they had money, other months nothing; so they experienced frequent cut-offs and reconnects. He vowed to someday be independent of the power companies.

    Today La Creek Electric Cooperative, which supplies power to much of Pine Ridge, charges a $15 per month fee just for the meter. White Plume said his goal was to have only one meter for an entire area that eventually will supply wind power for some 25 families - for free.

    The new wind generator will supply power for one family, a community center and, eventually, a newly constructed economic development center on White Plume's property. The center will be an incubator for individual entrepreneurs.

    The White Plume tiospaye, or extended family, has taken many steps toward economic development on their land, located on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the Badlands. White Plume raises buffalo and horses, and operates a horse camp on his property.

    He tried to create economic development for the family by growing industrial hemp, only to have the federal authorities destroy two crops and take him to federal court. He is awaiting an appeal on his conviction of illegally growing hemp. The wind generator, a community center and Percy White Plume's home are located on the second-year hemp field, which was destroyed by federal authorities in 2001.

    The wind- and solar-generated power makes perfectly good sense where White Plume and his family live, as the wind blows continuously and the sun shines almost every day year-round. In fact, White Plume's wife, Debbie, coined the phrase ''Pine Ridge is the Saudi Arabia of wind power.''

    The new alternative energy system was constructed and financed with private donations and labor from family and friends. The cost of the wind generator and tower, White Plume said, was just under $20,000. A $10,000 donation from one person helped bring the project to reality.

    Support for the project also came from the White Earth Land Acquisition Project, headed by Winona LaDuke on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. LaDuke and youth from White Earth were present at the raising of the tower. The youth attended workshops on alternative energy options for three days before the turbine was installed.

    The youth came from the Hopi, Navajo and White Earth reservations, and from Canada and California. LaDuke said she was interested in this project for possible clustering of the small turbines for extended families elsewhere.

    White Plume started to develop this project in earnest in 1999, even though he had the idea some 28 years ago.

    The power from the turbine and the solar system will be connected to La Creek Electric's grid. White Plume will be paid at the rate of one and one-half cents per kilowatt-hour for the excess from his system. There are no batteries to back up the system, but the plan is to have them installed in the future after a member of the tiospaye is trained in their maintenance.

    White Plume's goal is to provide power for the future and give something of value to the young people of his family. The younger generation will also learn about alternative energy and the maintenance of the system.

    This is the first family system to be connected to La Creek Electric, according to Wayne Sterkle of La Creek. It requires a simple contract between the electric company and the owner of the system if the wattage is less than 150,000 watts (150 kW).

    Sterkle said he wanted to see the wind power system go up so his grid and lines could be tested to see if it is feasible to add more units.

    ''There is a safety issue. We didn't want power to go on the line and have the grid go down,'' Sterkle said. There are not enough lines on the reservation for large wind farms or turbine units.

    KILI radio, the on-air voice of the Pine Ridge Reservation, has a power turbine system in the planning stages. That system would be much larger than White Plume's.

    According to studies on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the entire area tests very high for potential wind energy development. The Oglala Sioux Tribe has been working on a larger wind farm; and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, with one turbine that supplies power for its casino, is also working on a series of small wind farms. Rosebud is also located in a high-level area for wind generation.

    "Be good, be kind, help each other."
    "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

    --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

  • #2
    that rocks!!
    Last edited by goodgirl; 09-14-2005, 09:27 AM.

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    • #3
      I felt the same way...in fact, I hope the idea spreads!!

      "Be good, be kind, help each other."
      "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

      --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

      Comment

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