Renewables on the reservation: A success story

The lights of Mystic Lake Casino, just outside the Twin Cities.

Today’s story on the barriers to developing renewable energy on South Dakota’s tribal land paints a pretty bleak picture.

In addition to a byzantine patchwork of federal and tribal laws, a major obstacle South Dakota tribes face is a remote location that makes it difficult to develop economic resources.

For Minnesota’s Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, though, it’s a different story. Contrasted with the vast reservations of South Dakota, the Shakopee own a small 3,300 acre patch of land just outside the Twin Cities. That location has made it possible for the tribe to operate Mystic Lake Casino and an adjacent 600-room hotel, a cash cow that generates millions – perhaps hundreds of millions – of dollars in revenue for the tribe.

That financial clout has enable the Shakopee to develop their own renewable energy resources – an impressive portfolio that includes solar panels, geothermal systems, waste oil recycling, a biomass plant, and most recently, a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine that supplies almost all the residential power consumed on the reservation.

“Fortunately, we’re in a situation where we can not only move forward with the design and construction of these facilities, but we’re also able to fund them in a timely manner,” tribal administrator Bill Rudnicki told Minnesota Public Radio in a 2009 story.

For the Shakopee, renewable power is a way of carrying on traditions of environmental stewardship, but it’s also a matter of sovereignty:

Like many others across the country, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and its members are faced with growing energy demand, dependence on outside sources for that energy, and known environmental impacts associated with conventional energy sources. In response, the Community has been active in exploring local options to supply its energy needs.

What a difference location can make.

Photo by insipidlife via Creative Commons

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