Indian lands spur power developer interest

Continuing a growing trend to build power plants on Indian reservations, SeaWest Wind Power Inc. will develop a 22 Mw wind power project on Blackfeet tribal lands near Browning, Mont. Other power developers have also identified opportunities for power plants on tribal lands. Calpine Corp. was the first developer to clinch a contract with tribal officials by getting federal permits to build a 500 Mw natural gas-fired power plant on the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation in Arizona 2 years ago.


Ann de Rouffignac
OGJ Online

Continuing a growing trend to build power plants on Indian reservations, SeaWest Wind Power Inc. will develop a 22 Mw wind power project on Blackfeet tribal lands near Browning, Mont.

The Blackfeet I project is scheduled for construction in May 2001 with commercial operation scheduled for fall 2001. Purchase power contracts are not final yet. Talks are ongoing with Bonneville Power Administration, Glacier Electric Cooperative and other Montana coops, SeaWest says.

Montana Power Co. will receive 3 Mw of the power at a discounted rate to sell to its distribution customers. Montana Power is awarding the project a $1.5 million production subsidy. The power produced on the wind farm will be sent across Glacier Electric�s transmission lines.

SeaWest, an independent San Diego power developer, has already developed 500 Mw of wind power projects in California, the UK, and Spain. The Blackfeet project is the company�s first on tribal lands. A spokesman says the company is talking with other tribes about wind power projects.

Other power developers have also identified opportunities for power plants on tribal lands. Calpine Corp. was the first developer to clinch a contract with tribal officials by getting federal permits to build a 500 Mw natural gas-fired power plant on the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation in Arizona 2 years ago.The plant is scheduled to be in operation by 2001.

Calpine has subsequently announced two other gas-fired power plants on tribal lands. One will be located in southern Californa on the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian land and another on the Moapa Paiute tribe's land near Las Vegas.

Calpine says fewer permits are required to locate plants on Indian lands though the process can be just as tedious. The Bureau of Indian Affairs approves any final contract with Indian tribal councils, and the customary environmental permits are always required. But state, county, or other local government entities are not involved in the permitting process.

Taxes are another issue. Developers are attracted to the Indian federal lands because they claim that only federal law and taxes are applicable. States have contested that view and Calpine has agreed to pay applicable state taxes on their three projects on Indian land.

But getting a power plant developed on Indian land is not always that easy, says John Rocchio, Calpine senior vice-president of business development. Indian tribes in Oklahoma and Minnesota say power plant developers have made inquiries about development of power projects on their land.

�It�s tricky negotiating with a tribal council,� says Rocchio. �It�s not the typical negotiating. These people have been mistreated over the years and it [negotiation] can get very emotional and personal. It�s a mixed blessing negotiating with a tribal council. God and everybody else is on their side.�

He says tribes get the same deal as the project �down the street.�

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