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United States

Blackfeet ineligible for tax credit

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An equity investor is being sought for the first utility scale wind farm to be built on Native American land. Development of the 22 MW plant, on the Blackfeet reservation on the eastern side of the Rockies in Montana, was announced on September 6 by California wind project developer SeaWest and the Blackfeet tribal council.

A third party equity investor is needed because Native Americans do not pay income tax, which means the Production Tax Credit (PTC), worth $0.015/kWh adjusted for inflation, cannot be applied to the project if the Blackfeet were to own it, says SeaWest's Dave Roberts. Construction of the Blackfeet I plant, to start in May 2001, is planned for completion in October.

A wind farm for the Blackfeet has been talked about for years. "We are gratified that this idea has finally become a reality," says Earl Old Person, chairman of the Tribal Business Council. The federal utility Bonneville Power Administration is considering buying power from the project on a long-term contract, says SeaWest. The output will also be made available to Glacier Electric and other Montana co-operatives, as well as to customers of distributor Montana Power, which has awarded the project a $1.5 million production subsidy. The subsidy, through the company's universal system benefits fund, is in return for 3 MW of capacity at a discounted rate for Montana Power's customers. "This project is an excellent example of utilising system benefit funds to create and stimulate economic development and renewable energy in Montana," says David Ryan of Montana Power.

SeaWest, which was to electrify the latest phase of its massive Foote Creek project in neighbouring Wyoming on October 1, sees hundreds of megawatts of potential on the Blackfeet reservation, where winter winds often reach 100 mph. The main constraint is transmission, says Roberts. The 16.8 MW Foote Creek IV expansion, 28 600 kW Mitsubishi turbines, will bring the total capacity developed by SeaWest at Foote Creek to more than 85 MW.

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