Sustainable Energy for Sustainable Production

Final Report for FNC05-575

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2005: $17,632.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Shawn Burke, Project Leader, is a beginning producer and extension agent on Pine Ridge reservation. Mr. Burke’s operation includes meat goats and vegetable production, and pasture lease.

Bryan Deans is a cow/calf operator with additional enterprises in welding, a soy-based bio-diesel project, collaboration project on a local sawmill, and a proposed straw bale construction project, to meet some of the low-income housing needs for reservation residents. He has considerable experience in alternative energy production and developing opportunities, especially for economic development on Pine Ridge reservation.

Henry Red Cloud is a bison producer, with additional startup enterprises in wind turbines and passive solar panels.

Shawn Burke: 15872 E. Hwy 44 Caputa, SD 57772
Henry Red Cloud: Box 1609 Pine Ridge, SD 57770
Bryan Deans: HC 66 Box 21 Chadron, NE 69337

Shawn Burke used a pasture fallow system on his small acreage, various livestock. Bryan Deans used rotational grazing on his grazing units for most of the past five years. He also has been working on developing a local biodiesel production facility on Pine Ridge reservation. Henry Red Cloud has been building and installing passive solar panel heaters for private residences on Pine Ridge reservation.

• Setup hybrid alternative energy systems on producer ranches to supplement power needs thus providing opportunities for further development of sustainable production systems.

• Evaluate the efficacy of locally produced turbines for small scale energy production in isolated areas of Pine Ridge reservation.

Process: Our idea was to create hybrid energy systems using purchased small turbines, and other purchased new and used components, at the lowest cost available. We constructed most of the towers for the turbines from oil field pipe and additional scrap iron. We were initially going to install photo-voltaic cells on these systems, but the cost became prohibitive (roughly twice as expensive now as from the initial grant application.

Decision: Original site (Project Lead): Decision to install three turbines and solar panel system, in an off-grid hookup, with separate panels for power generation.

Analysis: Given the county regulatory environment, and site physical characteristics, it proved cost prohibitive for installation of the systems. The power output from the three turbines was too low to justify the cost of the transmission cable. Also, the electric cooperative for either an off-grid hookup, or an automated system with liability insurance was prohibitive for a grid-tie system. We chose to install six micro-turbines on the second site (this was initially planned for three turbines). We have also installed one locally produced turbine on the third project site, as initially intended.

Decision: Use locally available materials for tower construction.

Analysis: While the cost may have been slightly less for local construction of the towers, the time and effort involved with designing and installation of these towers is probably not worth the difference in cost with towers available from commercial vendors. We did re-use one tripod radio tower which is probably cost effective, given a 60’ height and reduced input costs, but overall the construction of the towers would need to be greatly simplified to warrant the use of the same materials for future efforts.

Decision: Hook up systems to water systems.

Analysis: It is immaterial how the power generated is utilized for this project as the end result is an offset of the overall power needs. Given our configuration of turbines and battery banks, it is efficient to generate and store the power, and it is most effectively utilized by constant need, low amperage uses, such as household lights/outlets and 110 volt freezers and other appliances.

The Pennington County Planning Commission and West River Electric were involved in the initial zoning and guideline requirements for design of the system at the initial (abandoned) project site. Power Plus Electric provided technical evaluation of the project design and transmission costs for this site as well.

Representatives from North Central Region SARE (NCR-SARE) and the NCR-SARE Circle of Sustainability Committee visited the Bryan Deans site as part of a tour of Pine Ridge reservation in assessing how SARE programs can be enhanced in reservation communities. Staff from South Dakota State University and SDSU Extension were involved in promotion of the project locally.

The primary education in this project is for our project participants, especially regarding the time required and the complexity of the project. We have spent a lot of time rethinking and redesigning the systems to meet the needs, the available capital, and county regulations. We learned that more careful analysis of the cost/benefits of installing these systems is needed prior to jumping into a project. We learned that the complexity of setting these systems up is much greater when involved with a location that has access to grid power.

We have discussed the results of this project with many people locally, and as part of public education efforts. We have learned that although there is a lot of talk and momentum in evaluating and promoting alternative energy, this has not yet translated in a simplified process for individuals trying to set up home systems in South Dakota.

Larger than this, however, is the continued opportunity to share the experience with others, and to connect with other alternative energy efforts. Through this project, we continue to expand our access to programs and individuals who are committed to supporting sustainable energy production in this region.

The other issue we’ve encountered is in production of local turbines. The design is not yet perfected nor adequately tested to begin commercial production, but the premise is sound, as a means of providing a minimal power source for isolated, off-grid locations. If we can develop sources for the components that are reliable and inexpensive, we will be able to promote the development of this industry. However, implementation of this would require a partnership with a local organization that could manage production and marketing for these turbines. We’d most likely need to partner with a technical individual, to further refine the initial design.

As for solar panels, we are seeking alternative sources for those originally requested in the grant. With current government programs, there should be additional sources of panels in the market in the near future.

As noted above, the primary lesson we’ve learned is to try to get as much information as possible as to potential constraints for projects beforehand, as it is very time consuming to try to mitigate unanticipated problems after the fact. The primary advantage to this is the reliance on local labor and inputs. This is probably also the primary disadvantage, as the need for components and technical expertise has been a constraining factor in the delays and cost over-runs for this project.

Methods for public information: Presentation to audiences—Empowerment Zone presentation, NCR-SARE Circle of Sustainability session, discussion with other producers and cooperators, radio discussions.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.