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The project will consist of a detailed feasibility study for a biogas/biomass-fired electric combined heat and power (CHP) facility to be located on tribal land adjacent to the Tribe's casino and hotel in Mahnomen, Minnesota.

The CHP facility would have a gross electrical generation capacity of 3 megawatts (MW) (2.7 MW net), to be used by the casino, hotel, and other related buildings. Heat from the facility would be used to supply space and domestic water heating. Existing boilers are 1992 vintage and are due for replacement. The CHP facility would offset current fossil fuel use of 120,000 gallons of propane/year and 159,000 gallons of fuel oil/year. Preliminary indications from an initial assessment of the biomass feedstock in the region indicate that approximately 100% of the facility electric load and 100% of the facility heating and cooling load can be met with implementation of the proposed project.

Project Description


This project integrates with the long-term energy goals of the Tribe in that the knowledge achieved will likely lead to implementation of another facility of the Tribe achieving a higher degree of self-sufficiency, operational profitability, and reduced dependence upon nonrenewable fossil fuels.

The White Earth Nation received and successfully implemented a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Tribal Energy Program First Steps grant in 2003 to develop a strategic energy plan/program. That project researched tribal energy usage and alternative energy options for the tribal reservation. One of the resulting long-term energy goals has been to offset high electric usage in the larger tribal buildings with alternative energy generation. As a result of the research one option—wind energy generation—is now at the final stage of being implemented through a congressionally directed project for several tribal buildings. Secondly, on a long-term basis, a goal is to reduce the tribal facility dependence on expensive, nonrenewable fossil fuels. This proposed biogas/biomass-to-energy project focuses on reducing the energy and greenhouse gas footprint of the highest energy consuming buildings on the tribal reservation—the Shooting Star Casino and surrounding buildings located in Mahnomen. A primary objective is capturing existing waste streams as feedstock and redirecting their energy value to generate heat and electricity for the casino, thus saving/reducing fossil fuel energy dependence and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The primary focus of the study is the utilization of biomass waste feedstock generated in the region for the generation of renewable electricity and thermal energy. The 2009 biofuels feasibility study conducted by the University of Minnesota included a preliminary resource availability analysis that confirmed the existence of significant agricultural residues and forest biomass wood waste in the White Earth region. Records from the tribal sold waste collection enterprise indicate the tribal casino generates 613 tons of waste annually, some of which may be available as potential feedstock.

The Tribe also operates its own solid waste collection and transfer station system. Knowledge and technology gained from participating in this project holds potential for the Tribe rethinking its system and moving from being a purveyor of waste streams to outside landfills to becoming a marketable energy producer from feedstock sourced from regional waste streams.

Project Objectives

The White Earth Nation seeks to move forward proactively to address the following objectives:

  1. Attain energy self-sufficiency through the use of indigenous biomass resources
  2. Fulfill the strong tribal commitment to stewardship of the land by utilizing waste biomass material generated as a byproduct of forest, agricultural, and waste disposal operations
  3. Provide enhanced employment opportunities on the reservation
Project Scope

The approach for implementing the project is to convene a strong project team that will manage and guide this feasibility study. The Tribe selected a prime contractor and will rely on them, with significant guidance provided by the project team, to complete the feasibility study on time and within budget. Tribal staff will coordinate the feasibility study process with a contractor to insure that timelines are being met, key staff and the tribal council are informed and involved at critical points of the process, and that financial and progress reporting requirements are met.

The tasks to be conducted include the following:

Task 1 – Pre-Work Conference
Task 2 – Tribal Energy Load Assessment
Task 3 – Feedstock Availability and Cost Assessment
Task 4 – Conversion Technology Review and Selection
Task 5 – Preliminary System Design
Task 6 – Capital Cost, Installation Cost, Operating and Maintenance Costs
Task 7 – Environmental Permit Review
Task 8 – Energy Sales and Marketing
Task 9 – Economic Feasibility Analysis
Task 10 – Environmental Benefit Analysis
Task 11 – Tribal Benefit Analysis
Task 12 – Training and Professional Development
Task 13 – Annual DOE Project Review
Task 14 – Draft Report (developed through contributions of all project participants)
Task 15 – Final Report
Task 16 – Project Management

Project Location

The White Earth Band of Ojibwe is located on the White Earth Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota. The White Earth Band is one of six component bands of the federally recognized Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. The White Earth Band is Minnesota's largest and most populous reservation, encompassing 1,300 square miles and serving as the homeland for more than 20,000 band members. Situated in the northwest region of Minnesota, the reservation is filled with the natural beauty of lakes, rivers, forests, and prairies.

The proposed project will encompass a building—the tribal Shooting Star Casino adjacent to the community of Mahnomen, Minnesota. The casino consists of gaming areas, two bars, four restaurants, a swimming pool, a spa, 396 hotel rooms within two attached two- to three-story structures, and a 28,500-square-foot events/convention center in addition to the normal gaming and plant support operations. Approximately 311,000 square feet of space is under the roof of the casino, event/convention center, hotel, etc. The main building was completed and operational in 1992, and the event center and one of the two hotels were added in 1994. The casino and events center are masonry, and the hotels are wood and masonry.

Project Status

The project is complete. See the final report.

The project was competitively selected under the Tribal Energy Program's fiscal year 2011 funding opportunity announcement "Renewable Energy Development and Deployment in Indian Country" (DE-FOA-0000422) and started in May 2012.

The November 2012 and May 2015 project status report provides more information.

Project Overview

Minnesota Chippewa Tribe/White Earth Band

White Earth, MN

Project Title
White Earth Biogas/Biomass Feasibility Study

Type of Application

DOE Grant Number

Project Amounts
DOE: $247,118
Awardee: $0
Total: $247,118

Project Status

Project Period of Performance
Start: May 2012
End: April 2015