Energy | Renewable energy | Sustainability

Wallowa County Chieftain: Tribe Turns On First Turbine

Wallowa County Chieftain | May 8, 2014 5:21 a.m. | Updated: May 9, 2014 10:03 a.m.

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GEORGE PLAVEN Wallowa County Chieftain

Thad Roth approached the podium Thursday afternoon at Tamastslikt Cultural Institute, and was happily overshadowed by the towering wind turbine that spun lazily behind him.

“I feel fortunate to be upstaged,” said Roth, renewable energy sector lead for the nonprofit Energy Trust of Oregon. “I can see everyone’s eyes looking up at the turbine. That’s what you should be looking at.”

About 50 people attended a dedication ceremony for the turbine recently installed at Tamastslikt on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. It is the first wind turbine to be built on a Native American reservation in the Pacific Northwest.

At a capacity of 50 kilowatts, the turbine is expected to produce approximately 25 percent of the museum’s annual electricity demand. Tamastslikt estimates this will add up to $480,000 in energy savings over the turbine’s 30-year lifespan.

The project cost $475,000, funded primarily through a pair of grants from Energy Trust of Oregon and Pacific Power’s customer-driven Blue Sky Renewable Energy Program. CTUIR also covered a 10 percent matching grant.

Officials gathered with tribal leaders to celebrate another step toward making Tamastslikt a “net-zero” building, meaning its energy needs are offset by advances in efficiency and renewable generation.

“Your efforts here are part of a small but growing contingent in Oregon,” Roth said. “You guys are on the cutting edge. This is great work you’re doing.”

The turbine was especially dedicated in memory of Michael Cooper, former facilities manager at Tamastslikt who died Feb. 12 after battling leukemia. Construction was finished just weeks later.

It was Cooper’s vision that started Tamastslikt on the road to energy efficiency. On his watch, the museum managed to cut its electricity consumption by 63 percent and its natural gas consumption by 76 percent over the last decade.

Total energy savings totaled nearly $740,000 from 2003-2013, according to the museum’s figures. Jess Nowland, assistant facilities manager, said the turbine championed by Cooper will only continue to reduce their carbon footprint.

In addition, the CTUIR energy policy adopted in 2009 promotes the development of clean, renewable energy, to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and to pursue energy independence as an act of sovereignty.

“Our tribes … historically, when Lewis and Clark first came here, they said the land was pristine,” Nowland said. “Our traditional values were always to tread lightly on the land, and not be wasteful. Renewable energy projects and conservation really fit those ethics very well.”

The turbine is a smaller model Endurance E-3120, measuring 169 feet from the apex of blades to the ground. By comparison, larger industrial models can range from 390 to nearly 500 feet in height.

Nowland said having such a visible project at Tamastslikt is symbolic in a way, and also helps to educate the public about making smart energy choices.

“You think about fish and what goes into the water, or vegetation and what goes into the ground, and we are still very much dependent on those,” Nowland said. “I think having this turbine here shows the tribes are making responsible use of the wind resource.”

Michael Cooper’s son, Jacob, came from Hillsboro to attend the dedication. He said his father — while not one to revel in all the attention — would be proud to see how everyone came together to participate in his vision.

“He was always driven to improvement,” Jacob Cooper said. “Conserving energy was something he was very proud of, as far as what they’re doing here.”

Contact George Plaven at gplaven@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4547.

This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.

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