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Spirit Lake Tribe - 1995 Project

Project Overview
Tribe/Awardee: Spirit Lake Tribe
Location: Fort Totten, ND
Project Title: Wind Energy Project for the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe on the Fort Totten Reservation
Type of Application: Deployment
DOE Grant Number: DE-FG48-95R810566
Project Amounts:
DOE: $191,000
Awardee: $63,000
Total: $254,000
Project Status: Complete  More
Project Period
of Performance:
Start: September 1995
End: March 1997

Project Description


A long-range goal of the Spirit Lake Nation is to develop a tribally owned and operated municipal power company. The tribe has been awarded a Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) allocation starting in the year 2001. Bringing wind energy into this system makes sense environmentally as well as economically. It has been established that wind energy power plants can compete very well with new natural gas-and fossil-fuel-fired plants. Wind energy power plants also provide approximately 66% more jobs than natural gas-fired plants and 27% more jobs than coal-fired plants.

It is documented that North Dakota has wind energy potential among the greatest in the United States It is estimated that the wind energy available in North Dakota alone would meet up to 45% of the annual U.S. electricity demand.

The Spirit Lake Nation investigated the energy potential that exists above its reservation lands. In November 1993, seven meteorological towers were installed on the reservation. Wind data were collected at multiple elevations ranging from 50 to 225 feet. The data collected so far indicate wind energy potential as good as that of the best California wind farms.

The Spirit Lake Nation is interested in developing this wind energy resource and in the environmental and economic benefits that will result from this activity. The Spirit Lake Nation expects to realize some of the economic benefits inherent in wind energy technologies by adding the manufacture of wind turbine components into its industrial base.

Goals and Objectives

The primary goals of this wind energy project are as follows:

  • To revise and continue the resource assessment program in preparation for future large-scale wind farm development.

  • To correlate the wind data with local demand for electricity in order to better determine the economics of a large-scale wind farm.

  • To conduct an environmental assessment in preparation for a large-scale wind farm, including avian studies.

  • To deploy a utility-grade wind turbine to gain operating experience.

  • To provide actual wind turbine performance data that would be correlated with the meteorological data collected.

  • To perform a preliminary economic assessment for a large-scale wind farm that would be sited on the Fort Totten Indian Reservation based on wind data and wind turbine performance data.

  • To provide hands-on experience for students, researchers, political leaders, utilities, and tribal planners with regard to large-scale wind farm development.

  • To provide a focal point for educational programs at Little Hoop Community College through technical training, business training, and environmental studies.

  • To initiate and strengthen essential working relationships between tribal members, the local community college, as well as state, federal, utility, energy research, and commercial development agencies.

The photos show two views of the Micon 108 wind turbine, and the Spirit Lake Casino, all superimposed on a photo of the surface of the lake, with the turbine in the background.

Under their Title XXVI Project, the Spirit Lake Sioux purchased and installed a Micon-108, 100-kw wind turbine on the Fort Totten Reservation. The turbine supplies approximately one-fourth of the total electrical energy used by the tribe's casino.

Project Actions and Resultant Data

This project consists of three major tasks.

  • An environmental impact assessment will be conducted to determine any adverse impacts to local wildlife that might occur if a large-scale wind farm were to be constructed and operated

  • A wind resource assessment will be made of the Fort Totten Reservation.

  • A demonstration turbine will be installed and operated by the tribe for a period of one year.

Following one year of operation and wind data collection, an assessment will be made to determine the economic feasibility of constructing and operating a large-scale wind farm.

Environmental Assessment

Tribal lands were assessed to determine ownership and to identify any sacred burial grounds or historically significant land. None of the locations selected for wind monitoring towers or the wind turbine infringed upon these classifications of land.

The avian study was not performed because the wildlife instructor for Little Hoop Community College resigned to take a position at another college. Attempts to find another wildlife instructor to conduct the study were unsuccessful.

Relocation of Wind Monitoring Equipment

Wind monitoring systems from the tribe's first wind monitoring program were taken down and technicians from the Energy and Environment Research Center (EERC) at the University of North Dakota refurbished the data loggers, which had become inoperable due to lightning strikes or static discharge. The data loggers are Nomads, manufactured by Second Wind. The monitoring systems were then relocated to Crow Hill, which is the site identified to have the best wind potential based upon results from initial survey. The three wind monitoring systems are still in operation collecting data. Data recovery has been intermittent for a variety of reasons. Some data loggers experienced battery failures while others appear to have been affected by static charges.

Wind Resources

Because of the difficulties encountered in the data storage cards, we are unable to present wind resource summaries at his time. The data will be available at a later date if data recovery attempts are successful.

Demonstration Wind Turbine

A Micon-108 wind turbine was purchased from Micon Wind Turbines (US) Inc. The wind turbine was removed from service from wind farms owned and operated by Foras Services Inc. in Palm Springs, Calif. The wind turbine is a 100 kW, three-bladed, stall-regulated machine with an 80-foot tall tubular tower. The wind turbine was removed from the back row of wind turbines that were among the lower producing machines in the wind farm due to the array losses caused by the other upwind turbines in the wind farm. The wind turbine was disassembled and reconditioned by Foras Services prior to being shipped to the Spirit Lake Reservation. Foras also modified their System Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) software to be used with the wind turbine so that tribal windsmiths can monitor the wind turbine remotely.

The wind turbine was erected and commissioned during the fall of 1996. Construction planning and supervision was provided by Micon. EERC personnel and tribal members worked together to erect and commission the wind turbine. The wind turbine is still in operation and is expected to have a useful life of 15 years or more. Tribal windsmiths operate and maintain the wind turbine and perform semi-annual maintenance. Spare parts are purchased from Foras Services when needed, and Micon, Foras Services, and the EERC provide technical assistance as required.

Power from the wind turbine is supplied to the Spirit Lake Casino. The annual wind turbine production is approximately one forth of the total energy required by the Casino. Because the Casino's demand is typically more than 400 kW, and the wind turbine capacity is 100 kW, virtually all of the electricity produced is consumed by the casino.

Windsmith Training

Two tribal members were selected for windsmith training. The tribal members, accompanied by a research engineer and an electrical technician from the EERC, attended a one-week windsmith training session conducted by Foras Services personnel at the wind farm facilities in Palm Springs, Calif.

The training consisted of a combination of classroom and hands-on work. The classroom sessions covered such topics as electrical safety, climbing safety, theory of operation, gearbox inspection and maintenance, controller operation and troubleshooting, and routine maintenance procedures. The hands-on sessions involved going out to the wind turbines with Foras windsmiths and assisting with routine annual maintenance procedures. This provided an opportunity for the new windsmiths to learn practical tips from the experienced windsmiths. It also provided an opportunity for the new windsmiths to gain a sense of the proper attitude toward safety and workmanship necessary to successfully maintain wind turbines. Overall, the windsmith training was a positive experience for the new windsmiths.

A second windsmith training course was held at the Spirit Lake Casino in Fort Totten, ND. This session was partially sponsored by the North Dakota Office of Intergovernmental Assistance. The training course was opened up to other wind turbine owners in addition to the Spirit Lake Nation. Windsmiths from the Turtle Mountain Chippewa, Blackfeet Nation, and the Richardton, ND, Abbey attended the week-long training session as well. As a part of the training, the semi-annual maintenance procedures were performed on both the Spirit Lake Nation, and Turtle Mountain Chippewa wind turbines.

A third training session will take place during the fall of 1997 at which time, Foras or Micon windsmiths will perform the annual maintenance on the wind turbine while Spirit Lake Nation windsmiths assist.

Operating Experience

One of the primary objectives of this project was for the tribe to gain experience in operating and maintaining wind turbines on a smaller scale, in order to make better decisions regarding the development of future, larger wind farms. It also gives the tribe a chance to understand the inherent strengths and weaknesses of the technology and how the technology matches tribal energy and cultural needs.

The wind turbine performed fairly well in some months and not so well in other months for a variety of reasons. The wind turbine was commissioned Aug. 15, 1996. The communication hardware, which allows remote communication with the turbine, was not installed until Dec. 23, 1996. Prior to that, the only way to monitor the wind turbine was by on site inspection. For this reason, there were times that the wind turbine was out of production for days before being reset.

The two primary causes for the wind turbine being out of production were power outages on the utility grid and cold soaking. Cold soaking occurs when there is no wind and ambient temperatures are very cold, typically below minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit. During these periods, the wind turbine gearbox would become so stiff that, when the wind began blowing again, the wind turbine was unable to spin up to operating speed - even in winds as high as 30 mph. To overcome this problem, Micon has agreed to install a thermostatically controlled gearbox heater that will turn off when the turbine starts producing power. The heater will be installed during the annual maintenance in the fall of 1997. Another possible reason for the inability to start up after cold soaking might be related to the pitch angle of the blades. For this reason, the blades were re-pitched during the 1997 spring maintenance.

The turbine availability for the months of September and October of 1996 was close to 100%. In November and December of 1996, and February 1997, there were occasions where the turbine had shut down due to power outages on the grid and due to cold soaking.

The availability in the spring of 1997 was low due to a transition in windsmiths for the tribe. During this time, there was some confusion over who was responsible for day today operation of the wind turbine. The tribal council had determined that responsibility for the wind turbine should rest with the tribe's casino instead of Little Hoop College. The turbine sat idle much of the time that spring because no one was available to check on the turbine and perform routine maintenance and resets. About the time that the situation seemed to be resolved, a lack of business forced the casino to lay-off most of the maintenance crew that had trained to become windsmiths. Continued flooding of Devils Lake, which effectively cut off convenient access to the casino, was the cause for the casino's loss of business. Detours of 45 miles and two-hour delays were common. This also made it difficult for windsmiths to reach the wind turbine at times.

The long-term prospects for the casino look good. The roads are being built up, and plans for an outlet for the lake are moving forward. The tribe recently had a grand opening for a resort hotel connected to the casino. At this time, it appears that the casino's business has picked up and the maintenance staff has been rehired.

The overall availability for the first year of operation of the wind turbine was approximately 70%. The total annual production was approximately 92,000 kWh. The tribe is optimistic that the availability and production levels will be improved upon with the addition of the gearbox heaters, re-pitching the blades, and stabilizing the maintenance staff of the casino. The tribe hopes to achieve an availability of at least 90% for the next 12 months, which should result in 150,000-200,000 kWh of electricity production.

Community Outreach

This project has significantly raised the level of awareness for wind energy in North Dakota. Over the course of the project, radio stations in Belcourt, Bismarck, Devils Lake, Fargo, Grand Forks, Jamestown, and Minot followed the construction of the wind turbine. Most carried 10 to 20 minute interviews with Jay Haley, technical project manager from the EERC. The local television station, WDAZ, filmed the turbine erection and ran a 10-minute story on the evening news. There were also numerous newspaper articles following the progress.

Industry representatives from Zond and Micon toured the Sioux manufacturing facilities and were impressed with the tribe's capabilities to manufacture composite materials. This could lead to opportunities for partnering with blade manufacturers in the wind industry.

As a direct result of this project, the tribe hosted one day of a three-day Wind Atlas workshop, which was sponsored by the North Dakota State Energy Office, Micon Wind Turbines US Inc., and Foras Services Inc. Fifteen people attended the workshop, from as far away as Denmark, Saskatchewan, Nebraska, Minnesota, and California. The workshop was organized by the EERC where the other two days of the workshop were held. Wind Atlas is a Danish computer program that predicts wind turbine production using methods developed by RIS0. Hosting part of the workshop gave the tribe additional exposure to the wind industry and helped tribal members gain additional knowledge in the siting of wind turbines.

Results, Conclusions, Findings, and Recommendations

This wind energy project has been successful from the standpoint that it has demonstrated to tribal members and to the people of North Dakota that wind energy is proven technology. The tribe has gained valuable information, experience, and industry contacts through the project. The tribe has also recognized the need for trained personnel in order to provide reliable cost-effective power to its people.

The wind turbine has been successfully operated for more than one year with good prospects for successful operation for years to come. With the expansion of the casino into a resort complex, it may be economically feasible to replace the Micon-108 wind turbine with a new, larger wind turbine to supply a greater portion of power to the complex.

As the utility industry continues to deregulate, and the tribe's WAPA allocation of power goes into effect, the possibility of becoming energy independent by combining wind power with hydroelectric power comes closer to reality. The tribe intends to continue to pursue the goal of becoming energy independent. The experience gained through this project will help the tribe make the right energy decisions for the future of the Spirit Lake Nation.

Project Status

This project is complete. For additional information, contact the tribe directly.

Project Contact

Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe
PO Box 628
Fort Totten, ND 58425
Telephone: (701) 766-4221