Wind power in South Dakota

More than a dozen wind farms are operating, under construction or in the planning stages for northeast South Dakota. A rundown of some of the most local and largest projects follows:

Day County Wind Energy Center: The 99-megawatt wind farm, which has been operational since April, has 66 wind turbines with the capability of generating enough power for 25,000 average homes, Stengel said. Construction on the project, which is in Day County about 20 miles southeast of Groton, began in October.

Basin Electric Power Cooperative, which is based in Bismarck, N.D., has committed to buying the power, but during the first three years the electricity will be sold to the Western Area Power Administration.

"WAPA needed the power," Stengel said. The project, end-to-end, takes up about a 30-square mile area, Stengel said. But each wind turbine takes up less than one acre, he said. The Day County Wind Energy Center employs eight people.

"This is a project that’s going to be in the community for 20 to 30 years," Stengel said. "Although wind projects don’t create a lot of full-time paying jobs, there are jobs associated with the project that weren’t there before."
The project also brought an economic impact to the area, he said.

"In a seven-month construction period, there were 150 people on site, buying gas at the local convenience store or filling station, buying groceries in the local market," Stengel said. " Those folks also had to sleep somewhere, so they were renting apartments or houses or staying at a hotel."

Stengel said he’s thankful for all the help NextEra Energy got with the project. "A project like the Day County project needs a lot of people working together to make it successful," he said. "We’ve had wonderful cooperation in South Dakota — locally, regionally and at the state level."

A dedication will be June 22 at the facility. Dustin Johnson, of the state Public Utilities Commission, said the project cost $250 million.

Campbell County wind farm: Although it’s still in the beginning stages, officials expect a wind farm in Campbell County to be operational by 2013.

"That is our goal," said Heath Johnson, vice president of Aberdeen-based Dakota Plains Energy, which is developing the project. "Whether or not we’ll hit that, we don’t know. Who knows? We might be a bit early."

The Campbell County Wind Farm will be five miles south of Pollock and 10 miles west of Herreid. When finished, the $600 million project will cover about 40 square miles. The facility is expected to have 200 wind turbines, producing 300 megawatts of wind energy.

Right now, the environmental studies are being conducted, Johnson said. While this is the first wind energy project for Dakota Plains Energy, Johnson said it was a natural fit.

"We saw a need for it," he said. "We know quite a few land owners in the area. That’s why we ended up getting started." Johnson said that as the country comes out of the recession, he expects to see more wind energy projects.

"There is more capital out there to do it now," he said. "I think nationally we’re coming out of a recession, and people are feeling more confident about getting involved in energy in general."

Dakota Wind Energy

With hopes of a large wind farm in Day, Marshall and Roberts counties, Minnesota-based National Energy has taken a different approach to procuring lease agreements on 60,000 acres of land. It has organized local property owners in an effort to negotiate more favorable agreements from utility and wind power companies.

National’s Dakota Wind Energy project is the first of its type in South Dakota, state officials say. But it doesn’t yet have a buyer for its potential power, said Dusty Johnson of the state Public Utilities Commission.

Initial plans call for developing a 300-megawatt wind farm with about 200 wind turbines, said Erin Edholm, director of communications for National. But the demise of the Big Stone II problem is a concern, she said. Even under a favorable transmission replacement plan, it will be at least a couple of years before the farm starts producing power, she said.

The current lease agreements cover enough land to produce between 500 and 600 megawatts of power, Edholm said. But that much power would involve expansion beyond the project’s initial phase.

Tatanka Wind Farm

If transmission capacity were increased, there’s a chance the Tatanka Wind Farm near the South Dakota-North Dakota boarder could eventually be expanded, a company official said.

"The initial rollout of the Tatanka project could have been larger; however, we were limited by transmission," said Eric Schneider, ACCIONA Energy North America’s vice president of marketing. ACCIONA is the company that oversees the Tatanka project.

"The transmission line we connected to was the only line with available capacity and part of the…system. The upside is that the wind farm is capable of tripling or quadrupling in size and capacity in the future, if transmission capability improves, and we are hopeful that it will."

Presently, the Tatanka Wind Farm has 120 wind turbines in McPherson County in South Dakota and McIntosh County in North Dakota.

Combined, the 1.5-megawatt wind turbines produce enough power for more than 60,000 U.S. homes. The electricity is sold to the Midwest Independent Transmission System, which delivers the power to the upper United states and Canada.

Hurricane Lake

The Hurricane Lake wind farm would be built by Invenergy and include 167 wind turbines in Roberts County that would produce 250.5 megawatts of electricity, said Barry Fladeboe, development manager.

Because part of the project is on U.S. Fish and Wildlife grassland easements, Invenergy has already started the environmental permitting process, said Brian Rounds, an analyst with the state PUC. Fladeboe said the plant would be built in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the environment.

Transmission is a concern, he said. He said that with Big Stone II, plans called for production to being in 2011. Now, it might be 2013 or 2014, he said. The company has a power purchase agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority and lease agreements covering 100,000 acres he said.

Extensive wind testing has been very encouraging for Invenergy. "We have a profound wind resource out there," Fladeboe said.


Johnson said there has also been talk about wind farms in the Gettysburg, Java and Clark areas. The Clark County undertaking would be small and community-based, he said, and NorthWestern Energy would ideally purchase the 20 megawatts of power.

By year’s end, the amount of wind energy produced in South Dakota will be enough to power just more than half of the homes in the state, a public utilities commissioner said.

And, Dusty Johnson added, the wind farms planned for northeast South Dakota could make the $1 billion industry investment in the past two years look like peanuts.

The problem, though, is that a fair number of the projects, many still in their infancy, will never be built. Transmitting the energy that wind farms produce is a huge problem, Johnson said. Capacity is limited, and building more is very expensive.

That’s why Steve Wegman, executive director of the South Dakota Wind Energy Association, said growth will be gradual. "The key for people is to be patient," Wegman said. "What we’re trying to grow as an industry is continuous growth."

There are 413 megawatts of installed wind energy across South Dakota. There are another 300 megawatts under construction — mostly in the Brookings and Deuel area, Wegman said. But South Dakota still has some catching up to do.

According to the U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report, Texas had 9,405 megawatts of wind energy installed at the end of 2009. Even fellow Midwest state Iowa had 3,670 megawatts. California (2,773 MW), Washington (1,908 MW) and Oregon (1,821 MW) round out the top five.

One megawatt of wind capacity is enough to supply 240 to 300 average American homes.

South Dakota’s wind energy potential, on the other hand, brings more promise, ranking fourth in the nation behind North Dakota, Texas and Kansas, according to the National Wind Energy Association.

"We’re trying to have good sustained growth," Wegman said. "Every land owner would love to have a wind turbine on his property, and our industry would love to be able to do that for them, but at this point, transmission is still an issue."

And it has been since the wind industry first started to make its way into the state. Sometimes having good wind just isn’t enough.

"You have to have transmission to get the power from where it’s created to where it’s needed," said Steve Stengel, spokesman for NextEra Energy, the largest owner of wind energy projects in the United States.

NextEra recently completed construction the Day County Wind Energy Center in northeast South Dakota. At 99 megawatts, the project is the largest wind farm operating in the state, although that should change in the next few years as more construction is finished. NextEra also owns a wind farm in the Highmore area.

While the company has no current projects in the works, Stengel said that NextEra continues to pay attention to what’s happening in the state.

"We love doing business in South Dakota, and if we can find projects that make sense for ourselves and our customers, we will pursue those," he said. That would mean that a lot of factors have to come together, Stengel said.

"When you think of wind farms and what it takes to create a successful wind farm, the ingredients are all the same," he said. "You have to have a good wind resource. That’s something you have an abundance of in your state. You need land. You have to have transmission. And the fourth thing is that you have to have a customer. You can have the best wind site in the world, but if you don’t have anyone to sell the power to, it doesn’t do you any good."

Many planned wind farms were going to tap into the Big Stone II coal-burning power plant that was going to be build near Milbank. Before it was stymied by out-of-state environmental groups, it was to include extra transmission capacity for locally produced wind energy. Governmental, utility and wind power officials still hope to increase transmission capacity, but there are serious concerns about who will pay for the work. In a best-case scenario, the federal government will offer some feedback later this summer.

The $12 billion Green Power Express, which would ship electricity from the middle of the country to Chicago, is another possible solution to the transmission problem. But, again, finding somebody to pay for the undertaking is a stumbling block.

There is a potential breakthrough, Johnson said. There’s a proposal that would spread about 80 percent of the cost over a multi-state area based on load. That would be favorable to South Dakota, but it’s not finalized, he said.

Wegman said many projects around the nation have been slowed by the economy. The price of electricity is down, he said. The first quarter of 2010 was the first time wind energy demand dropped.

"It’s kind of like having a million bushels of grain on the market and the price goes down," Wegman said. "Across the U.S., demand for electricity is down. Electricity is just a commodity."

That’s why what NextEra Energy was able to do in Day County — build a wind farm in less than a year — is so impressive, Wegman said.

"The right things came together at the right time," he said. "Transmission, the land, capital, everything." Wegman hopes the same for other wind energy developers hoping to build in South Dakota.

"Nobody has the wind like we do," he said. "It’s high quality. It’s consistent. It’s steady. It runs all the time." And it’s also more economically and environmentally conscious, Stengel said. "We think there is a tremendous opportunity to grow," he said.

By Emily Arthur-Richardt and Scott Waltman, American News,