By Chris Thew
The Colville Confederated Tribes are working on two potential clean energy products - wind power projects on the reservation and an improved woody biomass incinerator at the Colville Indian Plywood and Veneer plant - that could mean millions for the tribe and a steady flow of jobs.
The tribes have signed a memorandum of understanding with Clipper Windpower, a Carpinteria, Calif., company specializing in wind energy technology, turbine manufacturing and wind project development, to develop wind power operations cooperatively at up to four areas on the reservation, Tribal Energy Coordinator Ernie Clark said.
The agreement calls for the two groups to identify wind energy resource areas on the reservation to develop future wind energy development opportunities.
"Our goal is to bring benefit to the Colville Tribes while protecting and preserving our lands," Clark said. "The tribe is very excited about possible renewable energy developments, including wind."
Last summer, the tribe and Clipper Windpower installed three 60 meter anemometer towers to provide wind speed and direction data for feasibility assessments.
Clipper Windpower is considering four different areas of the reservation, each about eight or nine miles long and a mile or two wide, Clark said. Most of the areas are undeveloped and two of the areas are within timber areas.
Clark said the large turbines would not harm the forest area, because they are much larger than surrounding trees.
If the project is considered feasible based on the amount of wind recorded in the area, Clipper Windpower plans to install 30-40 2.5-megawatt turbines at each site.
Plans call for wind speeds to be tested for one year, Clark said.
"This is the windy part of the year, so it's probably looking pretty good," Clark said.
Clark said that if the project is approved, turbines would be constructed and in place within three years.
It is still to be determined how much money the tribe would invest.
"More than likely Clipper would come up with their own financing," Clark said. "The benefit we get with Clipper is they're a seasoned energy company."
Under the agreement, Clipper Windpower would hold a 99 percent ownership in the project for four or five years and would then transfer to the tribe.
"We would structure the agreement so they would be 99 owners at first," Clark said. "Eventually, the tribe would be 100 percent owner."
Clark said the big thing for Clipper Windpower would be the tax incentives for producing clean energy.
If one of the projects was successful, Clark said the return could be $30 million a year, depending on the market price on energy.
The tribe also is considering an improved 20-megawatt woody biomass burner at Colville Indian Plywood and Veneer to replace an older unit in place. The tribe would like to have the project in place in three years, Clark said.
The nine-megawatt unit at the mill is inefficient, he said.
"They just run it to produce steam now," Clark said. "Even if they wanted to produce power it's so inefficient they would probably lose money if they tried."
Clark expects the project would cost $30 million, but the tribe would likely create a partnership with another company that could benefit from tax-incentives.
He said the 20-megawatt burner could possibly bring in $8 million a year.
"It would probably make more than the two mills combined," Clark said.
Fuels for the burner would come from within 50 miles of the facility, including waste from the mills, timber, slash and thinnings from tribal forests and possibly Forest Service lands and also from the private sector, Clark said, adding that the plant will require more fuel than the current facility and more workers to deliver and process the fuel.
"A 20-megawatt will burn a lot of fuel, which means more jobs," Clark said. "There'd be a lot of trucks coming to the mill."