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Native Americans plan self sufficiency

An ambitious wind power project in Alberta could establish Canada's aboriginal First Nations people as leading players in the wind industry if their proposed 100 MW wind plant can be realised.

A joint venture has been formed between Advanced ThermoDynamics Corp (ATC), a power generator manufacturer of Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario, and Peigan Utilities Inc of the Peigan First Nation Reserve in Brocket, Alberta. The 50-50 partnership, named Weather-Dancer Wind Power Inc, was established with plans to build a 101 MW wind farm worth C$200 million in south-western Alberta.

ATC announced in late April that German/Danish turbine manufacturer Nordex Balcke-Dürr will provide the turbines for the project, but Jens Pedersen of Nordex describes the agreement so far as only a "letter of intent." "It is too early yet for me to want to comment on this project," he adds.

In early May, nonetheless, Nordex trained four ATC and Peigan Utilities employees in Denmark and Germany on tower erection and trouble shooting. And Pedersen confirms that "at least one turbine" will be leaving Denmark for Alberta "as soon as possible." The aim of installing one or two turbines is to prove to the project partners that the technology is reliable, says Pedersen.

The developers have secured some financing, says William Big Bull of Peigan Utilities, but they need additional partners. A long term power purchase contract and distribution agreement with an Alberta utility is also needed. Weather-Dancer is holding discussions with TransAlta Utilities Corp (TAU), which services south-western Alberta. The parties are as of yet far from agreement, says Geoff Scotton of TAU.

Weather-Dancer is not the first attempt by the Peigan Nation to site a wind farm on its reserve. In the early 1990s, the Peigan Nation collaborated with The Chinook Project Inc of Calgary in a proposed 9.9 MW wind farm known as the Pee-Kun-Nee project. The Peigan Nation lost its allocation when it failed to gain access to the land needed for the project. The location was moved to Cowley Ridge and completed in 1994 by Chinook with Kenetech Windpower and WindPower Inc as the second phase of an 18.9 MW wind farm -- still Canada's largest. The Peigan Nation today holds a mere 0.5% royalty on the gross revenues of Cowley Ridge. "We have learned from our past mistakes," says Big Bull.

Big Bull claims wind speeds over the rolling terrain of the Peigan Reserve "compare favourably" to those at Cowley Ridge. There, they average between 7.5 and 8.5 m/s. "With our 60 metre towers, we'll be a lot higher," says Big Bull. "We've lived here all our lives, and we know that our winds lift roofs off and blow buildings apart and do everything in between -- on their good days. Don't worry, we've got the data to support it."

ATC is the exclusive Canadian manufacturing and sales agent for Nordex. Weather-Dancer will be an ongoing partnership and will seek to make sell and erect Nordex turbines for other clients in western Canada. As an initial project, Weather-Dancer plans to establish a large facility worth over C$1 million to manufacture towers on the Peigan Reserve, says Chris Gotmalm of ATC.

ATC was founded in 1985 and is a major exporter of heating, cooling and generation systems, used chiefly in the trucking industry. Most of the company is owned by the Batchawana First Nation. Since 1993 the Sault Sainte Marie shop has become the world's largest maker of auxiliary power units, says Gotmalm.

To promote aboriginal industry and business, the Federal Procurement Strategy (FPS) sets aside a quota of federal purchases from First Nation reserves. Big Bull hopes that Ottawa will provide incentives to support the sale of green energy generated by Peigan Utilities to other First Nations. An industrialisation measure like the FPS is needed, he says, because "we can't be making moccasins all our lives." He adds: "After 120 years of oppression, the main purpose of our wind farm will be economic development. We have no oil or gas on the reserve, and our unemployment rate is 55%."

The name "Weather-Dancer" refers to the final day in the summer sun dance, which First Nation people like the Peigans perform to pray for good weather to replenish the earth.

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