Wind turbines make cents...

by Doug George-Kanentiio©

The recent, dramatic increases in oil based products, along with natural gas, has stimulated many communities and companies to consider alternative means of generating power.

From hybrid automobile engines to solar powered garden lights the idea that each individual must reduce their levels of non-renewable energy sources has taken hold with the public.

For the Iroquois, and Natives in general, this is a welcome development in Western morality. We have long preached that the earth is a living organism and humans are among the least necessary of species even as we have become the planet’s greatest threat.

We, as custodians of our earth mother, should be leading the world in terms of using our resources wisely and with the unwavering principle that we must provide for the energy needs of those yet unborn.

In the last couple of years groups of Mohawk ironworkers have taken an active part in securing energy independence through the harnessing of the wind. Anyone who drives through Madison or Lewis counties will see dozens of tall wind turbines along the ridge west of Lowville or in the town of Fenner east of Syracuse.

Mohawk men such as Chris Burns-Tiehowiesonte of Akwesasne applied their skills to the erection of the 300 foot high towers which are capped by turbines and 120 foot blades designed to convert a breeze of 7 mph into clean electrical power. He set the rebar as 1,000 tons of concrete were poured as the base for the towers and then set the 160 ton tubular shells in place all the while thinking: why not this for the Mohawks?

Tiehowiesonte not only raised the towers he also saw how Akwesasne might benefit from a similar project. He knew the community, located astride the St. Lawrence, is in a natural wind tunnel which could easily generate the force necessary to push the turbine blades along. He also knows there are sections of the reservation which are ideal for a tower site, in particular Racquette Point.

When the St. Lawrence Seaway dug up the bottom of the river, it needed a place to dump the clay sediment and without any thought selected Raquette Point for this purpose. A hill was created which solidified into a concrete-like mass.

Yet nature will have its way and small plants took root but that hill remains a blight on Akwesasne, at least until now.

Acting on Chris’ suggestion that a wind turbine would work at Akwesasne, I examined the data which confirmed his ideas.

A wind turbine would not only be environmentally good but makes real cents, economically.

A 300 foot high turbine costs about $1,000,000, the greater part of which may be paid through grants from the U.S. Deparment of Agriculture and a new federal program called the Clean Renewable Energy Bond.

Since Akwesasne would be among the first Native communities to build wind turbines it would have priority in terms of funding.

There are a number of important factors to consider before turning to wind turbines. Does Akwesasne have adequate wind resources, is there access to property for the towers, are there existing transmission lines, do we have the expertise, technology or funding?

Each one of those considerations can be answered in the affirmative.

There is land, also. Each tower needs a couple of acres which in turn must have roads. To meet Akwesasne’s power needs (this includes all of the community) three towers generating 4.5 megawatts of electricity will be required for about 6-12 acres of land. There is even another possibility mentioned by Tiehowiesonte: anchoring the towers in the St. Lawrence which should not be a problem with our existing skills.

To determine our power needs I estimated there were about 13,000 residents on the territory with an average household of just over 3 persons. Now I know there are more than three Mohawks in each home but that is what the national data shows. So we would have over 4,000 homes using an average of 29 kilowatts of power daily.

Multiply that times 4,000 (again, there is far less than that number of homes here) and we will need 116,000 kilowatts of power every day. Three wind turbine towers would easily supply that much electricity with the National Grid company required under law to buy whatever we don’t use.

By overestimating the number of homes we may safely include the power requirements of the casino, health clinics, schools and other public utlities. Since National Grid charges over 13¢ per kilowatt hour for home use of their power (generated on our Barnhart Island) we are paying, collectively, over $4,500,000 in electrical bills each year - much more than the cost of the wind turbines.

Now think of how Akwesasne’s residents could spend that $4,500,000 if they were free from having to pay any electrical bills at all. We would use less fossil fuels, burn fewer trees, reduce to nothing our consumption of natural gas and propane. Now add a couple of towers and we can actually generate money.

All of this is for the good and fits nicely within our traditional philsophies and may well stimulate other Native nations to do likewise.

As Mohawks we have always been in front, the leaders. Adopting wind power would be an affirmation of our place as the most innovative of Aboriginal peoples.