Ojibwe Tribe, Utility Study Renewable Energy in Minnesota

The Fond du Lac Ojibwe Band in Cloquet, Minn., is exploring the potential of using the winds, flowing waters and wood as sources of renewable energy.

The Fond du Lac Ojibwe Band in Cloquet, Minn., is exploring the potential of using the winds, flowing waters and wood as sources of renewable energy.

"This is something the tribes have always been interested in," said Fond du Lac Division of Resource Management director Ferdinand Martineau. "Throughout our history, we've lived in harmony with nature, and renewables are part of that system." Earlier this year, the band installed an anemometer near Black Bear Casino in Cloquet to monitor winds speeds. The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory will analyze data the station will collect well into 2005.

"What we are trying to figure out is how much energy can we produce with the winds that we have," Martineau said.

While working with DOE to assess the potential of wind power on the reservation, tribal officials also have entered into preliminary talks with Duluth-based Minnesota Power Co. about increasing the generating capacity of the Fond du Lac Dam on the St. Louis River in Thomson, Minn., and of using logging slash to help fuel one of the utility's power plants.

"We are discussing the economics and feasibilities of them providing biomass fuel to us for our facilities," said Minnesota Power spokeswoman Margaret Hodnik. "Over time, they might build one on their own." Minnesota Power burns biomass -- wood and other plant material -- to help generate electricity in Cloquet, Duluth and Grand Rapids. The Hibbard Energy Center in Duluth is the company's largest biomass plant, burning about 1,000 tons of wood, tree bark and old railroad ties a day to generate 48 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 14,400 homes.


Minnesota power has the ability to generate about 1,200 megawatts of electricity. Renewable sources account for about 160 megawatts, an amount the company plans to increase, Hodnik said.

Much of the current renewable energy comes from the company's hydroelectric stations. The Fond du Lac Dam can generate 12 megawatts of power. The tribe and company are talking about increasing capacity there by 9 1/2 megawatts.

Martineau stressed that the biomass and hydroelectric discussions are in their early stages.

"I don't know if they will work out or not," he said. "There is some money that is available through the Department of Energy that could help with these projects." The DOE's Tribal Energy Program offers financial and technical assistance to tribes for feasibility studies and to reduce the local costs of conducting renewable energy projects.

"We work to improve local tribal economies, the environment and to make a difference in the quality of life of Native Americans," said Henry Fowler, who works on the Tribal Energy Program.

The tribal-Minnesota Power discussion are not the first they've have had concerning renewable energy. With Minnesota Power assistance, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College installed rooftop solar cells, capable of generating two kilowatts of electricity, and a 30-kilowatt micro-turbine wind generator.

The equipment helps students in a two-year electrical utility technology program learn about renewable and alternative sources of energy.

Renewable energy, not including hydroelectric power, accounts for just 1 percent of the electricity generated in the world. But that may change. In the United States, sales of wind and solar energy systems have grown 20 to 40 percent a year during the last decade.

And according to the DOE's Energy Information Administration, the world's total output of major energy sources increased about 17 percent between 1992 and 2002. During that time, geothermal, solar, wind, and wood and waste electric power generation increased more than 75 percent.

Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News