Oklahoma’s fast growing wind energy industry will create both tremendous opportunities and potential conflicts for the state’s American Indian tribes, tribal leaders were told this week.
Tribes could use small wind turbines to power Indian casinos, health care facilities and tribal administrative complexes, said Edmond attorney Ken Bellmard, a member of the Kaw Nation. And tribal jobs could be created through the manufacture of component parts for wind turbines, said Jaime McAlpine, an Osage tribal member who is president of Chermac Energy Corp. But there are potential conflicts as well, McAlpine warned. Some tribal members may believe wind turbines and transmission lines obstruct the natural beauty of the land. There could be a potential reduction in hunting grounds and wind energy sites could infringe on burial grounds and archaeological sites, he said. There is also the potential for sovereignty legal issues to spring up if utilities decide they want to build transmission lines across tribal properties, tribal speakers said. Tribal leaders addressed renewable energy issues and a number of other topics Wednesday and Thursday at a Sovereignty Symposium conducted at the Skirvin Hilton hotel in Oklahoma City. Although there are risks to embracing wind energy, several speakers said that the potential rewards are great enough that tribes should strongly consider getting involved. "Don’t be afraid to think small projects,” Bellmard said. By installing small wind turbines next to casinos, tribes might be able to save $30,000 to $60,000 of electricity a month, he said. The turbines could pay for themselves in energy savings and the tribes could enjoy free electricity from then on, he said. "You can do the same thing with your clinics and your housing authorities,” he said. These projects would not have to tie into the electrical grid so there would be minimal regulatory and intergovernmental problems, he said. McAlpine said he believes most Oklahoma tribes are already at least studying the idea of using renewable energy to power tribal complexes and casinos. While most tribes are located in eastern Oklahoma, where the wind is relatively weak, tribes in the western part of the state, such as the Cheyenne-Arapahos, might have the potential to develop wind farms, Bellmard said. He said the Kaw tribe has been conducting a wind study for 7 years at Chillocco in northern Oklahoma and it is conceivable a wind farm could be built there. Some tribes have already made commitments to green energy. Gregory E.