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Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians - 1994 Project

Project Overview
Tribe/Awardee: Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians
Location: Belcourt, ND
Project Title: Wind Resource Assessment
Type of Application: Feasibility
DOE Grant Number: DE-FG48-94R810520
Project Amounts:
DOE: $248,133
Awardee: $20,000
Total: $268,133
Project Status: Complete  More
Project Period
of Performance:
Start: September 1994
End: August 1997

Project Description


It is documented that North Dakota's wind energy potential is among the greatest in the United States. Estimates are that the wind energy available in North Dakota alone would meet up to 45% of the annual U.S. electricity consumption.

The Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, which is located in the Turtle Mountains in north-central North Dakota near the Canadian border, might have winds rated at a power class 5 or higher. The tribe attempted to deploy wind generators in the early 1980s. Three Jerico model 40-S wind turbines were installed on 100-foot tall lattice towers. The wind turbines never generated power before they were destroyed in high winds during a summer thunderstorm. These wind turbines sat idle, in various states of disrepair, since the storm. The tribe intends to remove these old wind turbines and replace them with a working model of current technology that can be used to educate tribal members.

The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians is interested in developing its wind energy resources and the potential environmental and economic benefits that will result from this activity. They recognize the need to become familiar with the technology in order to make informed decisions regarding wind development in the future.

This project consists of three major tasks:

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

  • A wind resource assessment of the Turtle Mountain Reservation.

  • Installation and operation of a demonstration turbine.

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.

Goals and Objectives

The primary goals of this wind energy project were to:

  • Perform the resource assessment of the wind energy potential at the Turtle Mountain Reservation and to collect the microsite wind data, which is necessary to strategically site wind turbines in the future.

  • Perform an environmental assessment of the Turtle Mountain Reservation with regard to potential wildlife impact from wind farms.

  • Provide actual performance data and hands-on experience for students, instructors, researchers, political leaders, and tribal planners with regard to the development of large-scale wind energy projects on the Turtle Mountain Reservation.

  • Perform the preliminary economic assessment of a large-scale wind farm site on the Turtle Mountain Reservation.

  • Increase awareness and acceptance of wind energy development on the Turtle Mountain Reservation, and to provide a working example of current wind energy conversion technology.

The photos show the demonstration turbine on the Turtle Mountain Reservation from several angles, and the water treatment plant.

The project included wind resource monitoring at three sites on the reservation, and the purchase and installation of a Micon-108 wind turbine. The turbine supplies power to the Belcourt Municipal Water Treatment Plant, displacing electricity purchased from the local utility at 6.5 cents/kwh.

Project Actions and Resultant Data

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 the Turtle Mountain Community College was unable to provide the time and assistance originally planned. Attempts to find another wildlife instructor to conduct the study were unsuccessful.

Wind Resources

Three wind monitoring towers were deployed as a part of this project.

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 which 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 Turtle Mountain Reservation. Foras also modified their 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. The actual commissioning date was Sept. 10, 1996. Construction planning and supervision was provided by Micon Wind Turbines (US) Inc. EERC personnel and tribal members worked together to commission and erect the wind turbine. The spread footing, which measures 20 feet by 20 feet by 2 feet for the bottom section, and 8 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet for the top section, took one week to construct. The footing was allowed to cure for almost two weeks before the three tubular tower sections were bolted down to the footing. The erection and commissioning took one week to complete.

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. Micon, Foras Services, and the EERC provide technical assistance as required.

Power from the wind turbine is supplied to the Belcourt Municipal Water Treatment Plant. The wind turbine is interconnected to the local utility grid. The local utility is North Central Electric Cooperative, Inc. The annual wind turbine production is approximately one third of the total power required by the treatment plant. Approximately 90% of the electricity generated by the wind turbine is used by the water treatment facility. This displaces power from the local utility valued at approximately 6.5 cents per kWh. The excess power is sold back to the local utility for 1.184 cents per kWh.

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 topics such 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 on Micon-108 wind turbines. 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 towards 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, N.D. 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 Turtle Mountain Chippewa. Windsmiths from the Spirit Lake Nation, Blackfeet Nation, and the Richardton, N.D., Abbey attended the week-long training session as well. As a part of the training, the semi-annual maintenance procedures were performed on the Spirit Lake Nation and Turtle Mountain Chippewa wind turbines.

A third training session took place during the fall of 1997, at which time Foras windsmiths performed the annual maintenance on the wind turbine while Turtle Mountain Chippewa windsmiths assisted.

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 Sept. 10,1996. 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 primary causes for the wind turbine being out of production were power outages on the utility grid, cold soaking, and an incorrect interconnection to the utility grid.

Cold-soaking was responsible for some of the production losses in November 1986 through February 1987. 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 agreed to install a thermostatically controlled gearbox heater that will turn off when the turbine starts producing power. The heater was installed during the annual maintenance in the fall of 1997. Another possible reason for the inability to start up after cold-soaking may be related to the pitch angle of the blades. For this reason, the blades were re-pitched during the 1997 spring maintenance.

The local utility was responsible for the incorrect interconnection. One of the three transformers on the power pole was not properly grounded. This caused the voltage fluctuations which caused a variety of problems: capacitor contacts were destroyed by electrical arcing; a power module was blown, which caused the brakes to remain actuated; a number of faults were recorded that took the turbine out of production; power metering was incorrect; and eventually, the generator burned up. Most of the production losses that occurred during the period from mid-February through April were the result of the blown generator. A rewound generator was purchased from Foras Services Inc. The blown generator was discovered on March 18, 1997, and was replaced by Foras windsmiths on April 19, 1997, at the end of the windsmith-training course. The turbine has been in operation ever since. The tribe is grateful to the utility for covering the costs for replacing the generator.

The overall availability for the first year of operation of the wind turbine was approximately 70%. The total annual production was approximately 62,000 kWh. The tribe is optimistic that the availability and production levels will be improved upon with the corrections to interconnections, addition of the gearbox heaters, and re-pitching of blades. The tribe hopes to achieve an availability of at least 90% for the next 12 months, which should result in 150,000 kWh-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. There were numerous newspaper articles following the progress.

Industry representatives from Zond and Micon toured the Turtle Mountain Manufacturing facilities and were impressed with the tribe's capabilities to manufacture heavy equipment for the military. This could lead to opportunities for the manufacture of tubular wind turbine towers. Turtle Mountain Manufacturing representatives have been in contact with Zond to request bid packages for towers for the Northern States Power Buffalo Ridge projects in southern Minnesota.

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.

As the utility industry continues to deregulate, and the tribe's Western Area Power Administration 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 more energy independent. The experience gained through this project will help the tribe make the right energy decisions for the future of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

Project Status

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

Project Contact

Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians
PO Box 900
Belcourt, ND 58316
Telephone: (701) 477-0470