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Green Technologies at Native American Casinos


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A Native American tribe in Minnesota is making great strides toward green technology in its casino. The White Earth Nation, a faction of Minnesota's Chippewa tribe, owns and operates the Shooting Star Casino and Event Center. That casino recently received a permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, to install an energy-efficient biomass power system.

Shooting Star Casino

Right now, the Shooting Star uses both oil-fired and propane-fired boilers for heating. The EPA permit authorizes the tribe to install a biomass-fired boiler, with the caveat that the fuel must come from only conifer and deciduous tree wood chips. The permit also limits the number of hours per year both the old and new boilers can operate. The plan is for the new boiler to heat the entire facility, including the Shooting Star's hotel and event center. The older, less-efficient boilers would be used only for back-up in the event of a biomass boiler malfunction.

Before the tribe goes ahead with the installation of the new boiler, it hopes to receive government funding for the project. White Earth representative Mike Triplett said he hopes the funding, which would come from the U.S. Department of Energy, will be awarded to the tribe by September. Even if funding falls into place by then, it will probably still take another two years before the new system is fully operating, according to Triplett. The system will make use of wood chips purchased from a contractor, although Triplett said the tribe hasn't selected a specific provider yet.

Biomass Power Would Save the Casino Money

Biomass power does not make use of fossil fuels. Instead, it derives energy from the burning of recycled wood chips. The chips are leftover waste products created by agricultural and urban industries. According to many scientists, the carbon released by burning the wood chips is far less detrimental to the environment than the burning of fossil fuels. By switching to a biomass boiler, the White Earth Nation would not only be doing something positive for the environment, they would be saving approximately $500,000 per year in heating costs. The reason for the savings: Oil, imported or domestic, costs significantly more than wood chips.

Wood chips biomass boiler
How works a wood chips biomass boiler

The Dangers of Biomass Power

Although biomass power systems are generally thought to reduce our carbon footprint, there is a possibility that the process could actually cause harm to humans and the environment. According to the Massachusetts Environmental Energy Alliance, the act of burning biomass pollutes the air and endangers human respiratory health. Burning biomass is not “carbon neutral,” according to the alliance. Harvesting wood just for biomass fuel would thin out our tree population, and an increased number of biomass plants would mean a lot of precious river water would be used up in the biomass cooling process.

The Advantages of Biomass Power

On the other hand, biomass power systems offer a lot of benefits to society. According to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, the biomass industry is a great stimulus for the economy. It creates jobs, reduces the country's dependence on foreign oil and other imports, tempers the negative effects of acid rain, and recycles carbon as opposed to generating it.

Green Tribal Casinos

White Earth NationThe White Earth Nation is not the only tribe to support green technology in the operation of its casinos. The Chumash Resort and Casino, operated by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash in California, recycles or reuses 49 percent of all the waste it generates. It uses cleaning products that have been certified by Green Seal, a third-party company that developed its own certification program for sustainable products. Guests at the Chumash resort enjoy table games, slots, poker, bingo, live entertainment, and a spa.

Harrah's Rincon Resort and Casino, operated by the Rincon Band of Luiseno in California, has retrofitted 10,000 of its light fixtures. This green maneuver has saved the facility more than 4 million kilowatt- hours, or kWh. Harrah's Rincon also participates in a renewable energy project that has saved enough energy to fuel more than 2,500 houses. Guests at this location enjoy a premium swimming pool called “Dive,” a live entertainment venue, a spa/fitness center, and nearly 1,800 slot machines and table games combined.

The Grand Casino Hinckley in Minnesota, owned and operated by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, has worked with the National Partnership for Environmental Priorities, or NPEP, since 2008. The goal of the partnership is to minimize the incidence of mercury and lead emissions. The casino also participates in environmental programs which recycle fluorescent light bulbs, batteries, and food. In 2009 alone, the Grand Casino Hinckley recycled over 350 tons of food waste. At this green facility, guests enjoy a variety of nature-oriented activities, including golf and kayaking.

The Barona Resort and Casino, operated by the Barona Band of Mission Indians in California, was the first tribal casino to be certified in Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, or LEED. They achieved this through rigorous recycling programs, the use of green cleaning products, and the development of a shuttle system to save gasoline and minimize emissions. The facility is located in the city of Lakeside and features over 2,000 slot machines and more than 80 gaming tables.

The Ka-Nee-Ta Desert Resort & Casino of Oregon conducted an energy audit which led to the retrofitting of over 800 light bulbs in their facility. This green change saves them about 400,000 kilowatt-hours of energy every year. The resort/casino facility is located in Warm Springs, Oregon and features a spa, horseback riding, and breathtaking mountain scenery, not to mention gambling.

The White Earth Nation is the most recent in a string of Native American casinos that have taken steps toward green living. Indeed, the number of casinos in the states that are "going green" continues to grow, thanks in large part to these conscientious Native American tribes.