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Wind carries jobs for Lakota Sioux

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Bill Radke: Yesterday, we told you about a deal between a Boston energy firm and the Lakota Sioux to build a wind farm in central South Dakota. Well today, Laurie Stern of American Radio Works looks at how the project could help transform the lives of tribal members.

Laurie Stern: Ashley Elk Nation is driving her 14-month-old-son home from daycare. She’s 21 and a single mother. She works part-time as a cashier and lives with her parents.

Ashley Elk Nation: I can’t have my own house because the bills are too high. My job’s not enough to be paying bills and stuff, and I can’t afford to get my own car — this is my stepdad’s car.

Ashley wants to be a carpenter. She may soon get a chance. The Lakota Sioux just signed a $400 million deal to build a wind farm with Boston-based Citizens Energy. The wind has always been strong and steady up here. Now it may also be profitable.

Carlyle Duchenaux: It could definitely turn the economics around, the poverty around.

Carlyle Duchenaux monitors water quality for the tribe. He says the deal will provide up to 40 jobs initially, and more as the project grows.

Duchenaux: We contract out a lot of services. We could have all that here. So that professionalism that we seek, this could certainly provide that.

Ashley Elk Nation says she plans to apply for a job at the wind farm.

Elk Nation: I like that it’s gonna be energy sufficient or whatever. Hopefully it will help out on global warming, and maybe the electric bill won’t be so high.

It may be years before the monthly electric bill gets lower. For now, there will be jobs and job training. A tribal college on a neighboring reservation begins offering classes on wind turbine maintenance next fall.

In Eagle Butte, South Dakota, I’m Laurie Stern for Marketplace.

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