On April 7, members of the Seneca Nation of Indians celebrated the commissioning of a 1.7-megawatt wind turbine on their tribal land in western New York.

On April 7, the Seneca Nation of Indians (Seneca Nation or SNI) commissioned a 1.7-megawatt (MW) wind turbine on Seneca Nation Reservation land in western New York, marking the culmination of several rounds of grant funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs. Lizana Pierce from the DOE Office of Indian Energy and Len Necefer, a contractor to the Office, joined the Nation in celebrating this milestone.

The Seneca Nation is the largest of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. Because the Nation’s three distinct territories are noncontiguous, some tribal members pay disproportionally more for electricity than others. For example, tribal members in the Cattaraugus Indian Territories pay almost $0.14/kilowatt-hour (kWh), while tribal members in the Allegany Indian Territories, who have access to low-cost hydropower, pay $0.05/kWh. The desire to equalize these cost disparities and address other energy challenges has motivated the Seneca Nation to seek innovative energy solutions. One such solution is the 1.7-MW wind turbine the Nation installed in the Cattaraugus Territories with the assistance of a grant provided through the DOE Office of Indian Energy. The project will capitalize on the New York state aggregate net-metering policy to lower the cost of electricity and ensure price parity for tribal members across all territories.

The 1.7-megawatt wind turbine is expected to save the Seneca Nation an estimated $360,000 annually, reducing monthly electricity bills for some 1,000 Seneca households.

Since 2003, the Seneca Nation of Indians has received three grants from the Office of Indian Energy that encompass the spectrum of opportunities available through DOE for tribes interested in developing their energy resources. In 2003, the Seneca Nation was competitively selected to receive grant funds to conduct a strategic energy resource plan. After developing this plan, the Nation received a grant in 2007 to explore creating an energy organization as a first step toward developing renewable energy on its lands. As a result, the Seneca Nation formed Seneca Energy, LLC, a tribal corporation whose mission includes lowering the cost of energy, training an energy workforce, building renewable energy assets, securing critical energy infrastructure, promoting energy sovereignty and self-sufficiency, and preserving the environment. Then, in 2014, Seneca Energy on behalf of the Nation received a grant to assist with the purchase and installation of the wind turbine in the Cattaraugus Territories.

With this project, Seneca Energy will capitalize on New York's aggregate net metering policy by serving as an electric distribution service to each of the territories. The Seneca Nation will not own actual distribution assets; instead, it will provide a bill-crediting mechanism for electricity generated by the wind turbine—in essence, creating a virtual utility service for the Nation.

Read more about the development of this project and its expected benefits in our April 2016 blog.