Construction begins on South Dakota wind energy project

On Oct. 5, 2010, the last regulatory approval pending for construction of a large wind power project in South Dakota was received – that’s when a Record of Decision (ROD) by the Rural Utilities Service was published in the Federal Register. The same day, construction began on the $363-million Crow Lake Wind Energy Project in south-central South Dakota.

At a press conference held at the offices of Sioux Valley Energy, Brandon, S.D., announcing the start of construction, two other aspects of this project were also introduced. The first was announced by U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. She reported that a $1.167 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration had been approved for the Mitchell Technical Institute (MTI), Mitchell, S.D., to purchase one of the wind towers for use in its wind technician degree program.

In making the announcement, Herseth Sandlin said, “This project is the perfect example of how the private sector, industry, federal and state partnerships can build South Dakota’s new energy economy. This is a unique project that combines the innovative spirit of South Dakota – and of course North Dakota, too – with tax incentives and grants that Congress has put into place to provide stability and growth to the wind energy industry.”

The Crow Lake Wind Project will consist of 108 wind turbines located throughout Aurora, Brule and Jerauld Counties just east of Chamberlain in the south-central part of the state. A subsidiary of Basin Electric Power Cooperative, PrairieWinds SD 1 Inc., will own and operate 101 turbines; however, turbine “101” will be used by MTI.

Greg Von Wald, president of MTI, said, “We’re presenting a model of how to put three things together – government, education and free enterprise – in order to get things done for South Dakota. … I can’t wait until the first student is standing atop the tower, looking out over the landscape and seeing how great South Dakota is, as well as the people and organizations that put this together.”

Another seven turbines will be owned by South Dakota Wind Partners. PrairieWinds will construct the seven turbines for the Wind Partners and operate them. Through PrairieWinds, Basin Electric will purchase the electricity that’s produced from those turbines. The Wind Partners announced in late September they had raised the $16.8 million required from South Dakota investors for their part of the project.

Jim Burg, president of the Wind Partners, said this model keeps ownership and investment dollars local. “This is the first time we’ve seen where the federal government is offering a way for everyone to get involved. We’ve had 611 people invest in this project. … The income, the profits from the seven turbines will be coming back to South Dakota.”

When completed in early 2011, the Crow Lake Wind Project will have a generating capacity of 151.5 megawatts, the Wind Partners project will have a capacity of 10.5 megawatts. The Crow Lake Wind Project will be the largest wind project in the United States owned solely by a cooperative.

Ron Harper, Basin Electric’s CEO and general manager, said there’s been much progress since this project was started more than three years ago. “Basin Electric and its member systems are a leader in developing or helping to develop wind energy in the Dakotas,” he said. “These are the fourth and fifth wind projects involving Basin Electric in South Dakota since early 2002.”

He expressed appreciation for help and support from East River Electric Power Cooperative, Madison, S.D. “It’s important to have this grassroots support in completing a project of this complexity,” he said.

Jeff Nelson, general manager of East River Electric, said the project represents two community ownership models, through its cooperative owners and through the Wind Partners. “It is an investment in South Dakota. It is an expansion of the value proposition (of wind energy). It is a first in the nation. It is a new model we are very hopeful will provide opportunity not only in this state, … but many other projects like this across the country.”

Harper reported that equipment was in place to begin construction as soon as the record of decision was published. “The first phase of construction is primarily civil and includes building roads, foundations and crane walks,” he said. The construction of this project will involve a peak work force of about 200.

In 2001, Basin Electric developed its first wind farm project – two turbines just north of Chamberlain, followed by another two turbines south of Minot, N.D. Since then Basin Electric has developed more than 450 megawatts of wind power in the Dakotas, including several projects with NextEra Energy Resources. In 2009, Basin Electric subsidiary PrairieWinds ND 1, Inc. completed the largest wind project in North Dakota. That project has a capacity of 120 megawatts. When the South Dakota project is completed, Basin Electric will have more than 700 megawatts of wind generation in its portfolio.