Article

Wind power blows past South Dakota

ST. FRANCIS, S.D. -- The irony hits tribal resource planner Ken Haukaas in the face, straight on in a stiff February breeze.

This spot near the high point on the Rosebud Indian Reservation is one of the windiest places in one of the windiest states. Yet that abundant energy resource is largely passing him by.


The Owl Feather War Bonnet Wind Farm with its 15 giant turbines was supposed to have been built by now. But despite intense efforts by the tribe, all that stands here are a few utility poles and a man with a vision.


But South Dakota is missing its opportunity to fulfill that vision and to add jobs and millions of dollars to its economy. And because of that, the country may lose a chance to reduce electric bills, feed its growing appetite for power, cut fossil fuel dependency and even stave off global climate change.


If there is a single explanation, it is this: The nation's intricate electric power system is tilted against wind energy, especially in the state with arguably the best wind potential in the nation.


"I think the next 10 years are going to be very important. That's the window of opportunity," said Public Utilities Commissioner Dusty Johnson. "In 10 years, if we have not been able to get into that game in a substantial way, that window will largely have closed.... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
This spot near the high point on the Rosebud Indian Reservation is one of the windiest places in one of the windiest states. Yet that abundant energy resource is largely passing him by.


The Owl Feather War Bonnet Wind Farm with its 15 giant turbines was supposed to have been built by now. But despite intense efforts by the tribe, all that stands here are a few utility poles and a man with a vision.


But South Dakota is missing its opportunity to fulfill that vision and to add jobs and millions of dollars to its economy. And because of that, the country may lose a chance to reduce electric bills, feed its growing appetite for power, cut fossil fuel dependency and even stave off global climate change.


If there is a single explanation, it is this: The nation's intricate electric power system is tilted against wind energy, especially in the state with arguably the best wind potential in the nation.


"I think the next 10 years are going to be very important. That's the window of opportunity," said Public Utilities Commissioner Dusty Johnson. "In 10 years, if we have not been able to get into that game in a substantial way, that window will largely have closed. That's my fear."


The obvious reason South Dakota was left behind is geography. It is far away from growing urban demand centers, and the transmission lines necessary to supply those areas can cost almost $1 million per mile.


But there are deeper reasons:


-- A system of transmission fees left over from the era of rural electrification makes exporting wind unprofitable in much of South Dakota.


-- Much of the power industry is hesitant to embrace wind energy because of its inherent limitations. Many feel wind is not ready to compete with traditional sources, but others argue that some utilities are biased against it.


-- Building new transmission lines is a daunting, drawn-out process that investors fear.


-- Half-hearted political support for wind energy has left the industry uncertain of its future.


If anyone has the will to overcome those obstacles, it is the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. It already has built the country's first Native American-owned wind turbine in one of its poorest counties, despite inexperience on the part of tribal and outside officials.


It also has the wind. Most of the land here is rated "excellent" or better for wind energy by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Here by St. Francis, the wind is "outstanding" -- a rating that applies to less than 5 percent of the state.


South Dakota has only one major wind farm -- 27 turbines near Highmore -- but several factors could open the door to a surge of new wind farms during the next five years or so.


For one thing, many of the barriers to wind power nationally have toppled in recent years. The cost of a kilowatt-hour -- which is enough energy to power the average American home for about 50 minutes -- has fallen by 90 percent since 1980, and the cost of installation has been cut in half.


When tax credits are factored in, wind is cheaper than any other energy source except coal. The cost can be less than 4 cents per kilowatt-hour.


In South Dakota, utilities have agreed to buy power from new turbines near Brookings and possibly in the northern outpost of Java. A second power purchase agreement near Brookings also appears to be a possibility.


Farmer John Leiferman of White signed a lease agreement with PPM Energy of Oregon about four years ago and expects construction to finally begin this summer. Leiferman and many of his neighbors will get substantial lease payments, which could prove a crucial second source of income.


"I'm real optimistic for my son getting a college education, and if he wants to return to the farm, I'd encourage him now," he said.


On Rosebud, the process has been more complicated. A major reason was the fees for using different parts of the electric transmission grid. This stacking of fees on top of each other is known as "pancaking," and is arguably the greatest obstacle to exporting power from central South Dakota.


One last obstacle to wind is the uncertainty that keeps investors from building power lines. Investment in the national transmission grid decreased by half from 1975 to 1997. Although it has since rebounded, there still is little excess capacity, industry experts say.

One major reason is deregulation, a movement to break up monopolies that owned both the means of electricity production and the means of getting power to customers. The resulting competition was supposed to reduce prices, but many states have seen the opposite.


With no way to predict what happens next, utilities are skittish about pouring money into transmission, which also can take a decade to pay off and is subject to a tortuous permitting process.


Haukaas said it will take $48 million to get the turbines up, and the tribe still needs a buyer who can offer a decent price. Demand in other states is raising the price of new turbines, and many manufacturers are sold out through 2007.


"We're here with Minnesota and Iowa, and we do have to be concerned about them possibly blocking us out of markets," said Public Utilities Commissioner Bob Sahr.


Said Haukaas: "I really wish I had $48 million."


Source: http://www.mywesttexas.com/...

APR 9 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/2084-wind-power-blows-past-south-dakota
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