Remember my insensitive suspicions about last year’s green preening at graduation? Short version: The College bought thousands of dollars of “carbon offsets,” some from the “Owl Feather War Bonnet Wind Farm, a 30 megawatt wind farm being developed by the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota.” I speculated that this was probably a scam, that the College was wasting money, that no carbon would actually be offset.

And I was (so far) right. Details below. How much money will the College (special shout outs to Amy Johns ’98 and Stephanie Boyd) waste this year? The press release should be available soon . . .

Below are portions of two e-mails from Ken Haukaas, Business Manager at the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Forestry Department.

Not sure whether this will get to anyone, but anyway.

I queried OFWB on the net and some interesting things came up and one was your blog on this subject and Carbon Offsets. If anyone would like to clarify any thing concerning this proposed development on the Rosebud Reservation, please contact me if you wish, as I am very intimate with the particulars of this Project. I have administrated this project at the tribal level since Oct of 2003.

I see that people are purchasing carbon offsets from a project that has yet to be in the ground, but efforts are there to get this done by Dec. 2008.

Native Energy has OFFERED to the project a purchase of the lifetime of 10Mw of the green tags. This project will use the money offered to buy down on the project debt. Lower the debt. Their contribution is significant but not that large, considering the price tag to construct the project is at 54,000,000.00 and their offer is about 3.2 million although it definitely helps.

I cannot tell you what Williams College has paid to Native Energy, as this is not in my realm. Like I said in my previous email, Native Energy has offered this project an upfront offer to purchase 10Mw of the green tags and although the transaction has not truly transpired, we expect to use this money on the debt side to lower the cost of the debt. What sort of deal Native Energy is making with whomever is not in my capacity to comment on except in this manner.

In 2003, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe applied for and received a Department of Energy Grant of $441,000.00 with in kind from the tribe and Distributed Generation Inc. from Lakewood, Colorado, totaling about $550,000.00 to do all of the pre-construction studies and activities to develop this wind farm.

We are at the point now build this wind farm. In 2003, the price of construction to build this 30Mw was at $37,000,000.00, it is now at $54,000,000.00.

I presented a power point in November ’07 in Denver for DOE, and for other tribes to view along with other govt. officials. You can find this power point at this link.

The name Owl Feather War Bonnet represents an incident that took place prior to reservation existence when a group of Lakota went down on foot south into Nebraska to hunt and raid and and so happened onto a Pawnee Camp and stole all the horses from these Pawnees. Horses were still somewhat rare and sought after tremendously. It seems they stole the horses but there was not enough for everyone to ride back on and so some had to walk back. The Pawnees are now running to catch up and take revenge and so that left a group of lakota, that did not have the horses, under potential attack. It was reasoned that the lakota that had horses should go ahead and get some help. Those that went ahead found a Lakota medicine man with the Owl as his medicine. They brought the medicine man back with them and found the Lakota raiding party and had the group form around him and he summoned his medicine, the Owl,… and Owls from all over came, flew over this group and loosened feathers that had fallen all around. The medicine man told the group to grab a feather and put it in their head dress and walk in a deep ravine and the Pawnees will not be able to notice you. This medicine worked and the Pawnees could not find the Lakotas and they eventually went home to Nebraska. The incident is said to have happened around this area, hence the name.

Any other questions, go ahead and ask, if I can answer I will.

Thanks to Haukaas for writing. The central point, for those still reading, is that the whole carbon offsets business is 95% scam, a scam to which the College has fallen (willing) victim. We wanted to believe that, by writing someone else a check (especially a nice PC someone?), we could reduce the amount of carbon that would have been emitted had we not written the check. But that check just went in to some hustler’s bank account.

Now, to be fair, the hustler is is still hard at work. But where is the accountability? How much did the College spend? What paperwork did it receive? What follow up was done? Thousands of dollars and all we seem to have gotten is a few feel-good lines in a graduation press release.

Again, this is not an anti-Boyd or anti-Johns screed. I want Boyd to go from “Acting” to permanent Director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives. (The College should do more to hire faculty spouses and promote from within.) I want Johns to work on my special projects, environmental and otherwise, for the College. (The more alumni that work for Williams, the better.) I am just tired of the College’s endless gaze into a green tinted mirror of fantasy.

UPDATE: More background from the Los Angeles Times.

A budding industry sells ‘offsets’ of carbon emissions, investing in environmental projects. But there are doubts about whether it works.

The Oscar-winning film “An Inconvenient Truth” touted itself as the world’s first carbon-neutral documentary.

The producers said that every ounce of carbon emitted during production — from jet travel, electricity for filming and gasoline for cars and trucks — was counterbalanced by reducing emissions somewhere else in the world. It only made sense that a film about the perils of global warming wouldn’t contribute to the problem.

Co-producer Lesley Chilcott used an online calculator to estimate that shooting the film used 41.4 tons of carbon dioxide and paid a middleman, a company called Native Energy, $12 a ton, or $496.80, to broker a deal to cut greenhouse gases elsewhere. The film’s distributors later made a similar payment to neutralize carbon dioxide from the marketing of the movie.

It was a ridiculously good deal with one problem: So far, it has not led to any additional emissions reductions.

Beneath the feel-good simplicity of buying your way to carbon neutrality is a growing concern that the idea is more hype than solution.

Indeed. Read the whole thing. It even mentions Owl Feather War Bonnet Wind Farm!

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