Sitting amongst a sea of prairie grass in southern Minnesota is a 900-foot-long outcrop of purple quartzite rocks lined in thousands of carvings — bison, turtles, and looking instruments — made by Indigenous peoples way back to 7,000 years in the past. It’s the largest group of Indigenous rock carvings within the Midwest. And the positioning, Jeffers Petroglyphs, remains to be used as we speak by native native individuals as a sacred religious web site for ceremony and prayer.
However simply down the street from the petroglyphs, stress is constructing over a brand new renewable power mission that Indigenous and historic teams argue might threaten the expertise of the culturally essential web site.
Apex Clear Vitality, a Virginia-based firm that holds the most important portfolio of renewable belongings in the USA, is searching for to construct a mixture wind and photo voltaic plant 5 miles from Jeffers Petroglyphs. First proposed in 2017, the mission, often called Massive Bend Wind and Crimson Rock Photo voltaic, could be the primary hybrid renewable power facility in Minnesota and one of many biggest wind farms within the state. It might have 55 generators unfold throughout roughly 27 acres, plus photo voltaic panels throughout 412 acres, on land leased to Apex Clear Vitality by native landowners in Cottonwood County. The wind portion of the mission would produce 300 megawatts (MW) of electrical energy, sufficient to energy 114,000 U.S. houses annually; the solar portion would produce as much as 60 MW.
The power, nonetheless, is going through criticism from historic preservation officers and native tribes which are involved the generators will negatively influence how the Jeffers web site is skilled spiritually and religiously. “You’d have the ability to see the entire mission from anyplace on our property,” David Briese, web site supervisor of Jeffers Petroglyphs for the Minnesota Historic Society, advised Grist. Eight miles from the positioning there may be already a wind farm with 15 generators. On a transparent day, you may see a few of the towers within the distance. In distinction, Apex’s wind generators could be nearer, greater, and there could be much more of them.
“You’ll be taking a look at a forest of wind generators,” stated Briese.
The farm was initially imagined to be positioned simply two miles from the positioning, however after pushback, Apex Clear Vitality moved the generators to five.2 miles away. Indigenous and historic preservation teams are asking for the generators to be positioned at the very least eight miles again from Jeffers Petroglyphs.
“We preserve our connection to our greater energy by way of the panorama and thru Mom Earth, and there are some locations inside our landscapes which are simply extra highly effective,” Cheyanne St. John, a historic preservation officer for the Decrease Sioux Neighborhood, advised Grist. “It’s not that our prayers are extra important in a single place or one other,” she added, “however we all know that a spot the place our ancestors prayed and carried out ceremonies and as soon as inhabited simply is extra significant.” For these communities, the positioning is a spot of worship much like a church or synagogue.
A consultant for Apex Clear Vitality stated the tribes’ voices have been “essential” in minimizing the influence the mission may have on Jeffers Petroglyphs and that the corporate has been participating with Indigenous teams and native residents for a number of years now. However opponents say this engagement didn’t begin till a 12 months into the mission, when Apex had already bought land leases across the space.
“As soon as they bought to a growth stage and secured sufficient of their belongings to maneuver ahead with allowing and functions, [that] was once they initiated tribal session,” stated St. John.
Along with issues over the disruption of Indigenous religious and cultural exercise, environmentalists and outside recreationalists have raised alarms over the renewable power facility’s placement inside an ecologically essential tallgrass prairie. Some 400,000 square miles of prairie as soon as lined North America. Lower than one p.c stays as we speak. The prairie surrounding Jeffers Petroglyphs hosts greater than 300 species of plants, together with the federally threatened prairie bush clover, in addition to numerous species of fauna.
“It’s not nearly our grasslands, it’s about our pollinators, our butterflies, our birds,” stated Joe Blastic, a prairie conservation supervisor in Minnesota for The Nature Conservancy. “All these grassland species want grass.”
Apex stated the placement shift to 5 miles away as a substitute of two now requires that it construct taller wind generators with greater blades to get the identical quantity of power manufacturing as nearer to Jeffers.
St. John, of the Decrease Sioux Neighborhood, emphasised that these wind generators are “a few of the largest within the trade.” The generators, from base to tip, will stand 650 toes tall. By comparability, the scale of an average commercial wind turbine within the U.S. is at present round 466 toes.
This isn’t the primary proposed mission that might have an effect on the traditional web site. Throughout from the petroglyphs is a quartzite mine, and two miles to the west is one other one. On windy days, mud blows over from the mines and accumulates on the petroglyphs. This accelerates the expansion of lichen, which slowly eats away on the carvings on the rocks. Blasts from the mine even have the potential to trigger cracks within the rock floor. Final 12 months, Lorentz Development, an organization that focuses on excavation based mostly in Mankato, Minnesota, tried to open a 3rd quarry within the space — however after public opposition, a one-year moratorium on the mission was granted.
A doable answer to the Massive Bend Wind and Crimson Rock Photo voltaic situation, Briese stated, is that if Apex expanded the photo voltaic a part of its mission and decreased the quantity of generators within the 8-mile buffer zone that Indigenous teams are asking for.
Others really feel it might be simple for Apex to decide on one other web site for the mission. “There’s 7,700 sq. miles of land in southwest Minnesota that may take wind towers,” stated Tom Sanders, a earlier Minnesota Historic Society web site supervisor for Jeffers Petroglyphs and a close-by resident. “There are many locations for them to go,” he stated. “All of us assist wind power, however not right here.” Sanders and others are working to get landmark standing for the positioning, after which recognition as a World Heritage web site, which might shield it from future proposals like Apex’s.
Local residents have blended emotions concerning the mission. Some assume Apex’s hybrid renewable facility will present extra financial alternative for the principally rural space. Others are wanting ahead to the fee they’d obtain from internet hosting a wind turbine on their land. However there are some that share issues with the historic society and Indigenous teams about cultural and pure preservation.
This wouldn’t be the primary large-scale utility wind or photo voltaic mission within the U.S. to break an Indigenous web site. In 2012, the Genesis Photo voltaic Vitality Venture was built alongside a historic Indigenous commerce route in California — the development of which destroyed the path and essential cultural artifacts.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Fee is at present reviewing public feedback submitted concerning the mission, and going by way of the usual evaluate course of for allowing. Alongside that, the Decrease Sioux Neighborhood, Minnesota Historic Society, and Higher Sioux Neighborhood are all in a contested case listening to with Apex over Massive Bend Wind. The Fee plans to conduct one other public remark interval and decide on the mission by 2022.
“We’re not in opposition to wind power and clear power,” stated St. John. “Nonetheless, we’re in opposition to any initiatives that influence the integrity of our sacred websites, or historic and cultural properties.”