Iowa tribe debates wind power for self-sufficiency

By Orlan Love
Tama, Iowa (AP) October 2010

The wind may make the Meskwaki people energy self-sufficient within a few years.

Test instruments at various heights on a 298-foot-tall tower are recording wind speeds and directions to determine if wind generation of energy is feasible on the 7,000-acre settlement west of Tama.

“Meteorologists tell us they’re confident we will meet the minimum standard, that we will not have a ‘no go’ situation,” said Tom Gearing, an information technology specialist coordinating the project for the tribe.

In central Iowa, an average wind speed of 11 to 12 mph is required for cost-effective generation of electricity, he said.

Gearing said the instruments began collecting wind data on Sept. 1 and will continue to do so for a year.

A $250,000 U.S. Department of Energy grant under the Tribal Energy Program has paid for all costs of testing, which includes an environmental-impact analysis, as well as cultural and business studies, Gearing said.

If the project proves feasible, the tribe will seek additional grants to defray the cost of buying and installing wind turbines, he said.

Gearing said turbines come in several sizes – the larger ones, with the most generating capacity, being the most expensive.

The wind data gathered by the test tower will help determine the most cost-effective type and size of turbine, he said.

Gearing said he believes the turbines could be easily integrated into the settlement landscape, which consists primarily of undeveloped forest and river bottom.

The “not in my backyard” arguments that often surface in the siting of wind-generation towers should be less prevalent on the settlement, whose residents would all benefit from the tribe’s energy self-sufficiency, he said.

Gearing said that many of the most promising sites on the settlement – in effect, the highest hills – already have houses on them, which could present an obstacle to maximizing the settlement’s wind-energy capacity.

Depending on the test results, it is possible that negotiations to move some residences might be undertaken, he said.

Tribal elder Leodean Peters said he believes wind generation is consistent with the Meskwaki people’s traditional beliefs in self-sufficiency, harmony with nature and sustainable use of natural resources.

“I think it is a good idea that could save the people a lot of money,” Peters said.

Meskwaki author and poet Ray Young Bear, a former member of the Tribal Council, said the concept of using an available and inexhaustible source of energy makes sense.

“With the Meskwaki people in dire economic condition, let’s pray that it works,” he said.

The Meskwaki Nation selected WPCS International, based in Exton, Pa. to provide engineering and consulting services for the project’s test phase, which includes furnishing and installing the towers, collecting data, issuing wind assessment reports, providing wind analysis and tower maintenance.