Lookout Solar: ‘We are the first in Indian country to develop a large-scale solar project’

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South Dakota is ranked next-to-last in U.S. solar installations by state, but the 140-MW Lookout project could propel it into the big time.

The proposed Lookout Solar Project in Oglala Lakota and Custer Counties is an 840-acre photovoltaic power facility that would include a new substation, a new underground transmission line, access roads, and a maintenance and operation center. Since pv magazine reported on the project in 2018, the capacity has been increased and progress has been made on the environmental and regulatory fronts.

It would be built primarily on lands within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and would interconnect with the Southwest Power Pool’s existing New Underwood to Wayside 230kV-transmission line, about ten miles away.

The developer is German energy company Wirsol.

Taking South Dakota from 1 MW to 140 MW

South Dakota ranks 50th of the 51 states (including Washington D.C.) in solar deployed, trailed only by North Dakota, according to data through Q3 2019 from the Solar Energy Industries Association. Rounding up, South Dakota has 2 MW of PV installed, while North Dakota has 1 MW deployed.

Lynn Dee Rapp, founder of Eagle Opportunity and a tribal citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, told pv magazine, “As a tribal member and entrepreneur — this is as big as it gets,” adding that the project will “bring employment and economic opportunity” to the county.

“We are the first in Indian country to develop a large-scale solar project,” said Rapp.

Rapp said that the remaining challenges are getting into the interconnection queue and approval of the transmission line to connect to the grid, about ten miles away. Rapp said that the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission has been cooperative in this matter.

She added that the Bureau of Indian Affairs “has been very careful to make sure our contracts are legal.”

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has reviewed the project and found it in accord with the National Environmental Policy Act, while supporting tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

“A great opportunity for tribes”

A 140-megawatt solar facility can provide an economic and employment engine to Oglala Lakota county, the poorest county in the nation.

“I know there’s a great opportunity in the energy field for tribes. We must take advantage of those. If not, the non-Indian communities surrounding us are going to jump in ahead of us. They’ll fill the grid and we won’t have any opportunity, so we’ve got to get going,” said Rapp in an article in Native News Online.

Not all tribal governments are pursuing massive utility scale projects. That same article notes that the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska “has pursued smaller distributed solar projects that offset the tribal government’s energy usage,”opting for self-sufficiency rather than an economic engine.”

But as Rapp told pv magazine, when it comes to utility-scale solar on tribal lands, “We are the first and we’re very proud of this.”