Where the wind blows: Exploring barriers and opportunities to renewable energy development on United States tribal lands

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Despite hosting nearly 8% of the United States’ wind energy potential, only one utility-scale wind farm exists on tribal lands. Several barriers hindering tribes’ capacity to harness their lands’ wind potential have been identified, including federal bureaucratic inefficiencies, difficulties securing financing, an inability to capitalize on the Federal Production Tax Credit, and internal administrative disagreements. Few studies have explored, in depth, how these barriers impact the wind energy development process, such as understanding the wind resource, project permitting, transmission, securing a power buyer, and financing. This study presents a comparative analysis framework exploring how barriers to tribal wind energy development influenced two projects: the unsuccessful Rosebud Sioux North Antelope Highlands project and the ongoing Oceti Sakowin Power Authority (OSPA) project. The study finds the OSPA, a newer coalition of tribes including the Rosebud Sioux, has created a novel ownership structure and development strategy with potential to overcome existing barriers, although reliant on finding an electricity buyer and the continuation of the Production Tax Credit. These findings further the scholarship regarding barriers to wind energy development on tribal lands, going beyond understanding what factors limit development to illustrate procedural strategies tribes can employ to overcome the aforementioned barriers. The strategic changes made by the OSPA can hopefully be utilized by future tribal projects to enable wind energy development making it possible to bring affordable, sustainable energy, and economic opportunity to tribal communities.

Tribal energy development
Wind energy
Rosebud sioux
Energy justice
South Dakota
Publication Type: 
Journal Article
Energy Research & Social Science
Date Published: 
February 2021
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Full Citation: 
Zimmerman, Michael G., and Tony G. Reames (2021) “Where the wind blows: Exploring barriers and opportunities to renewable energy development on United States tribal lands.” Energy Research and Social Science. 72(101874): 1-12.
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