Sioux Tribes Pursuing Giant Wind Power Project

With the help of former President Bill Clinton, six South Dakota Sioux tribes on Friday announced a plan to form a multi-tribal power authority, sell bonds and build a wind power plant that would be among the largest in the world at between 1 and 2 gigawatts of generating capacity.

The plan was unveiled at the Clinton Global Initiative’s CGI America meeting in Chicago, and described in a piece by former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and leaders from the six tribes – the Oglala Sioux Tribe; Yankton Sioux TribeCheyenne River Sioux Tribe; Crow Creek Sioux Tribe; Rosebud Sioux Tribe; and Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate.

sioux wind

Screen grab from Sioux Wind video

Precise details on the location and size of the project weren’t immediately evident, but the piece by Dorgan et al. noted that the tribes cover one-sixth of the land area of South Dakota. There’s no doubt that South Dakota is a prime wind resource (see graphic below).

In a video promoting the plan, the Sioux said the wind farm would be “the largest utility-grade wind installation in the U.S.” That title now goes to either the 845-megawatt Shepherds Flat project in Oregon, or the Alta Wind Energy Center in California, which checks in at 1,020 MW (and growing) but is made up of several sometimes distinct units. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has given preliminary approval for private developers to pursue a 2-3 GW project in Wyoming.

image via Wind Powering America

image via Wind Powering America

The Sioux announcement emphasized the unique financing model the tribes aim to use – the first new joint municipal power authority formed in the U.S. in decades, they said. It’s a model that could provide less-costly funding than typical methods, and the tribes hope it will give them a new level of “self-determination, self-development and self-reliance.”

“It will be a market driven initiative – start-up costs will be funded by private grants and investments, and the Project development costs will be fully funded by Power Authority bonds,” the announcement said. “The Project will not rely on federal tax credits. It is our hope that this Project may become a model for the development of wind power and other forms of renewable energy across the U.S., both on and off Native Lands.”

The announcement said the project “will be one of the most significant economic development initiatives in the history of South Dakota, and will result in spin-off development in road building, trucking, hotels and restaurants, telecommunications and other industries, benefiting both the Tribes and neighboring communities.”

While the plan is for the project to largely funded by the sale of the bonds – expected to be made available to investors in about two years – the tribes have turned to the crowdfunding platform “to raise the funds necessary to complete the planning process and technical feasibility studies.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • How is doing the “planning process and technical feasibility studies” ?

    • Pete Danko

      Sorry, don’t understand your question, Brian.

  • I am very sorry for the typo – the question is “who is doing the planning and feasibility study”? I did not find this project on -but I do not have a lot of experience with that website.

    • Pete Danko

      Brian, that link to is:

      As for who is in on the project, the press release stated: “Already several years in the making, the project has received significant pro bono support from Arent Fox, along with Herron Consulting LLC, the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy, the LIATI Group, the Bush Foundation, and the Northwest Area Foundation. Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, a nonprofit philanthropic services firm, is providing strategic counsel and incubating the project until the new power authority is created.”

  • Dale Osborn

    This is terrific. Who is going to provide tranmsission and who is going to by the energy? These are the key issues regardless of who finances the proejct. I pray this works, but my confidence level base on the questions above is not great.

    • Pete Danko

      Yes, transmission in particular is a key question (same as with the big Wyoming project). Western Area Power Administration is said to have space and wind can be a good fit with hydro (Missouri River), but enough? New construction necessary? Hopefully the feasibility studies will find good solutions.

  • Dale Osborn

    Reaching markets that are capable and willing to pay a financeable price for the energy is very hard in the dakotas. We have offerred to sell energy from a Rosebud Sioux project at under $26/ MWhr escalating at 2.5% and have zero takers. If the combined tribes use Western for transmission, then they face onerous wheeling charges which add about $10/MWhr. Western is so tied up in their operational constraints, they have little flexibility to help. One thing that would make a huge difference is to have congress equate Tribal Wind with hydro and force Western to include it in their rates. My view is that any utility that gets a federal hydro allocation should be required by law to meet a 20% other renewable requirement in order to keep that allocation. We have studied the integration of the Missouri River hydro system with wind since the early 1990s and have recieved the same old tired excuss from Western; our mission doesn’t allow it. The president should issue an executiev order demanding this be done.

    • Pete Danko

      Great information, Dale. Thanks for the insights!