Prairie Island to Become Minnesota’s First Net-Zero Energy Community

“Not only will we be one of the first Tribal Nations to achieve this critical (net-zero) goal, but we will also serve as a model for communities across the United States that aim to protect the earth by reducing their energy impact on the environment,” Tribal Council President Shelley Buck told Energy News Network. Pictured: An aerial shot of the nuclear site adjacent to the Prairie Island Indian Community’s reservation

The Prairie Island Indian Community will put $46 million from the state of Minnesota toward a net-zero emissions project — meaning the total amount of energy consumed is no greater than the amount of renewable energy created. The Tribe anticipates achieving net-zero status in 3 years. When it happens, Prairie Island will become Minnesota’s first net-zero energy community.

The funding source is historically significant for the community. A prior law allowed a Minnesota utility to store nuclear waste at its nuclear power generating facility, located just 600 yards from Prairie Island in Southeastern Minnesota. That made the Tribe the closest community to a nuclear plant anywhere in the country. In 1994, the Tribe forcefully opposed legislation that gave Xcel Energy legislative authority to store nuclear waste at Prairie Island. 

The May 2020 passage of bill HF 1842 paved the way for the Minnesota state legislature to approve $46 million from a state-established renewable development account for the Prairie Island Indian Community’s net zero project, reported The Star-Tribune

Previously speaking in support of the bill prior to its passage in May, Rep. Barb Haley (R-Red Wing) said, “This would be a first-of-its-kind project for not only a residential community, but for a large business operation, a casino, an area that’s visited frequently by tourists. So a lot of learning can take place. … It’s a very exciting project, and I hope we can get it across the finish line this year, because it’s shovel-ready.”

Treasure Island Resort & Casino is the county’s largest employer and the Tribe’s primary economic vehicle. Solar and other renewable energy sources will power this facility and others on the reservation. 

“The net zero project is a transformation opportunity for our Tribe; we can reshape our energy future,” said Tribal Council President Shelley Buck in a release. “For too long, our Tribe has been burdened by the negative impact of energy production, specifically nuclear power and nuclear waste. This legislation gives us the power to change that narrative and use energy production as a force for good.”