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The Final Word by Chuck Swann
The Native American drive to stop construction of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline in the Dakotas has made national--even global--headlines recently. The expressed concern of the Indians is twofold: to preserve the integrity of what they consider sacred grounds and to protect the rivers and streams that are their drinking water sources.

Elsewhere, another Native American action has made only local headlines, but is likely to attract a bigger and brighter media spotlight as it progresses. The Red Lake Band of Chippewa in northern Minnesota intends to build enough solar energy capability on tribal lands over the next several years to end dependence on electricity generated by fossil fuels.

According to an article by Neal St. Anthony in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "The project is expected to deliver up to 25 megawatts of power at an installed cost of up to $40 million under a three-phase, several-year plan that would cover three casino rooftops, as well as several corporate buildings, ground arrays and, eventually, house rooftops."

The tribe's goal is to reach environmental and economic independence from purchased power through generating its own clean electrical energy. Eugene McArthur, the tribe's economic development executive, said, "Renewable energy harnesses the natural forces of life, of nature, which provides the foundation for who we are as native people." About 13,000 members of the tribe live on reservation lands.

The Chippewa will not initially own the solar project. It will be financed and owned by outside investors. According to a spokesman, those investors probably will be a large national bank and a couple of Fortune 500 companies. The investors will get a return from energy sales and can take advantage of a variety of tax credits, depreciation and deductions--including a federal investment tax credit of 30% and accelerated tax-deductible depreciation. The plan calls for the investor-owners to donate the solar equipment to the tribe after five years and take a charitable deduction.

The tribal council has signed agreements with a solar power project consultant and builder, and an energy company. Construction could start as early as the spring of 2017, according to the business-side developers.

Chuck Swann is Senior Editor of Paperitalo Publications.

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