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Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians - 2010 Project

Project Overview
Tribe/Awardee: Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians
Location: Hayward, WI
Project Title: Assessing the Hydro Dam at Lac Courte Oreilles
Type of Application: Feasibility
DOE Grant Number: DE-EE0002514
Project Amounts:
DOE: $201,643
Awardee: $0
Total: $201,643
Project Status: See project status
Project Period
of Performance:
Start: January 2010
End: March 2012


The mission of the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Tribe provides a framework for all current and future programs. It is, as follows: "We, the Anishinaabeg, the people of Odaawaa Zaagaa'iganing, the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe, will sustain our heritage by preserving our past, strengthening our present, and embracing our future. We will defend our inherent sovereign rights and safeguard Mother Earth. We will provide for the educational, health, social welfare, and economic stability of the present and future generations."

The feasibility study of hydropower will answer three questions: 1) How can hydropower be developed to create a sustainable economic stream that contributes to the financial viability of the tribe? 2) How can this venture meet the energy needs of the community? 3) How can hydropower be developed without jeopardizing Mother Earth or the cultural beliefs of the tribe?

By the end of the decade, the tribe must prepare for a renegotiation process to assume greater control over the Chippewa Flowage area, the sale of power from the hydro plant that will produce actual revenue back to the tribal coffers, a retirement of the debt to Xcel Energy, and greater control over the dam itself. The value of support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) at this time is to enable the tribe to engage technical assistance in this process with the assurance that all are acting in the best interests of the tribe and Mother Earth and to engage the community in a dialogue that will lead to reconciliation.

Project Description


In 2005, the tribe committed to meeting the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol and pledged to enable and require that reservation communities secure a percentage of their energy needs from renewable sources. In 2006, the tribe developed and adopted an LCO Comprehensive Plan, which established several goals for future energy use, including the goal of providing at least 25% of the tribe's energy needs with renewable resources.

In 2008, the LCO Tribe received a First Steps award from DOE to coordinate LCO's conservation and renewable energy projects; to network with potential collaborators; to complete an energy audit of tribal facilities; to articulate an overall plan to guide the tribe in its conservation efforts; and to create a plan to identify the most cost-effective renewable energy options for LCO.

Work completed under this grant served to heighten the interest and enthusiasm of tribal leadership to implement the recommendations of the final report—in particular, assessing the feasibility of hydroelectric power with the caveat that the final plan be low impact and produce zero emissions.

The LCO hydro dam has been having generating issues for quite some time. Multiple factors have been at work, including drought conditions which have resulted in water levels too low for the old system to be viable, failing systems that go offline occasionally, and obsolescence of existing equipment. Added to these issues are inadequate plant management, inadequate systems of reporting to the tribe, and underfunding. Without further intervention and investment, the current systems will fail and the tribe will be left with a large debt and a nonfunctioning plant. While the supply of water at the hydro facility is usually plentiful, the old technology now in place at the plant is unable to adjust to the fluctuation resulting from environmental changes. While assessing environmental conditions, new and emerging technology needs to be studied to determine whether a better system would be able to produce enough power to make reinvestment sensible while being able to adapt to varying conditions in emerging weather patterns. Initial proposals from the North American Hydro Company indicate that modifications may be feasible but the tribe lacks capacity to assess whether or not their assumptions are correct, especially since the company stands to make a financial gain.

Project Objectives

The purpose of the feasibility study is to assess ways to increase the viability of the current hydro facility as a tribal business and source of renewable energy by securing engineers to review the currently nonfunctioning or barely functioning generating systems, improving management functions, and reviewing the power sales contract for renegotiation.

The tribe is ready to take the next step, which is this project's goal: assessing the feasibility of upgrading an existing hydropower generating system (at Winter Dam). The assessment will involve three objectives:

  1. Conduct an engineering and financial feasibility study that details the viability of the dam, including equipment upgrades and cost estimates, and revenue projections.
  2. Conduct a legal review of the power sales contract with recommendations for renegotiations.
  3. Obtain at least two management proposals for the dam and present to the tribal governing board for recommendations.

At the end of the project, the tribe will be in a position to deploy recommendations that were developed by project consultants and tribal staff.


An analysis of the hydro facility needs to be conducted by engineers who have the technical expertise to study the facility and collect historical as well as current data on water levels, water speeds, rainfall, and other environmental factors. A financial analysis needs to be conducted by persons with expertise in hydroelectric energy calculations. Consultation with other hydro operators in the same geographical area will also be beneficial in identifying systems that are working under current environmental, hydrological constraints. The tribe is not aware of other new hydro models that operate more efficiently and more productively.

When all hydro studies and recommendations are completed, they will provide to the tribe the following information: system availability, overall system costs, replacement/parts availability, challenges of operational training, installation costs, and financing options. Some other important criteria that will be weighted involve cultural and environmental benefit/impact analysis. Financial analysis will also play a large part in determining which systems might be a best fit for new generation. All these methods have their place in making a completely informed decision that will best impact the tribe, the environment, and future generations.

Tribal loads have been addressed through the energy audit performed under the First Steps grant of 2007. With that information, assessment can determine actual feasibility of rerouted transmission to the reservation communities to offset outside energy sources. Some aspects of legal studies are going to be needed to determine when and if the tribe can utilize this option. The power sales contract with Xcel will have to be studied further by an attorney experienced with such who can determine whether renegotiation or other options are available should the tribe want to pursue options beyond what is in place currently. Transmission and all viable export markets will also be researched in depth to determine options for the tribal governing board to be able to make the best decision for this business to prosper to its full extent. All rates associated with distribution within the regional market and with individual retailers that might be interested in future purchase of the produced commodity will be assessed and researched. At this time, green credits are still under deliberation by involved parties and will be continued to be sought.

Environmental assessments can be undertaken with help from two separate sources. One is the current hydro facility already regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Also, the tribe has a very strong, knowledgeable Natural Resources and Historic Preservation Department that can assist with the environmental review process. With the help of a consultant, permitting, approvals, and decisions that may need identifying, consultation, or explaining should be able to be done.

Project Location

The Anishinaabeg (The People) of LCO number some 6,000 members, half of whom live on or near their reservation in northwest Wisconsin, approximately halfway between Milwaukee and the U.S.-Canadian border. The closest cities are Duluth, Minnesota, 90 miles to the north, and Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 100 miles to the south. The reservation covers 76,000 acres and is 15 miles wide. It is named after the lake on the eastern border, which was called Lac Courte Oreilles, meaning "Lake of the Short Ears," by the French who fur-trapped there in the 1800s.

Project Status

This project is complete. For details, see the final report.

The project was competitively selected under the Tribal Energy Program's fiscal year 2009 funding opportunity announcement, "Assessing the Feasibility of Renewable Energy Development and Energy Efficiency Deployment on Tribal Lands," and started in January 2010.

The November 2009, October 2010, November 2011, and March 2014 project status reports provide more information.

For current project status or additional information, please contact the project contacts.

Project Contact

Rose O'Shogay
13394W Trepania Road
Hayward, WI 54843