South Dakota Approves $100M Solar Energy Project On Pine Ridge Land

There’s been a lot of talk about renewable energy on Native lands, and particularly lands owned by Sioux tribes. With approval of the $100 million Luna Solar Park from the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, that talk just got closer to reality.

The planned Luna Solar Park would be sited on 810 acres of federal trust land within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The plot is located about 80 miles from Rapid City and allotted to Lois Wilson Rapp, an Oglala Sioux Tribal member. 

Rapp says she hopes that the project will set an example for other renewable energy projects on Indian lands.

“And then know that when a dollar is spent, it turns over seven times in the community where it is used and our reservation towns are desperate for cash,” she said, calling to mind the Native value of preserving the land for seven generations into the future.

She added that the project will mean construction jobs for Natives, with some longterm jobs a possibility as well: “There will be 200 to 400 jobs provided while we are in construction, and we will be training people while they’re working and we give Indian preference, according to the federal law.”

While a potential big win for the Oglala Sioux, the project would also boost South Dakota’s profile in the solar energy game. The state currently ranks next-to-last among states, producing just 1.779 MW of solar energy (only North Dakota produces less). Luna Solar Park would yield 140 MW, making South Dakota the leading solar producer among plains states.

The project is owned by the German company Wircon GmbH, which will lease land from the Rapp family. According to Wikipedia, Wircon has installed over 6200 solar systems (under the brand name Wirsol) that produce a total output of 440MWp. The company is active in Germany as well as Southeast Asia and China, and has also finalized deals to install facilities in Spain, Italy, Belgium, and the U.S. state of Colorado.

Approval from the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission was a big step, but The Rapps and Luna Solar Park still have a few boxes to check. Their agreement has not yet received approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the project will need to negotiate a connection with the Western Area Power Administration’s transmission system. Beyond that, Luna Solar Park will need to find a buyer for its power.

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