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PUC tries to picture potential  

www.aberdeennews.com

Community-based concept discussed at meeting in Eureka

By Scott Waltman

American News Writer

EUREKA – If wind power production in South Dakota could function like value-added agriculture, the benefits to the state would be great.

The concept has the backing of the state Public Utilities Commission. But making it work could take time, commissioners say.

What’s called community-based development was a popular topic at a PUC meeting in Eureka on Wednesday night. About 80 people attended the 90-minute session that focused on wind energy.

Community-based wind energy development would be similar to an agricultural cooperative. Landowners would group together, provide financing and put up wind

turbines. The energy the turbines would produce could then be distributed locally or sold to power companies. That way, the money created stays in the state. The concept is great, but not necessarily simple, said Bob Sahr and Dusty Johnson of the PUC.

One concern is cost. Putting up a single turbine would probably cost $3 million, Johnson said. That’s a lot for a small group of people or single community to raise. It makes more financial sense to build a wind farm with many turbines, but that costs even more, he said.

And there’s another financial consideration. Community-based development would have to mean lower energy prices, Johnson added. Without lower costs to consumers, community-based projects wouldn’t make sense, he said.

Even with the potential problems, Johnson believes there will eventually be community-based wind energy development in South Dakota. It just might take some time.

Sahr agrees. But he thinks such projects will be large undertakings with more than one or two turbines.

Federal law change needed: A change to federal law would probably also be needed to aid community-based development, Sahr said. Right now, there’s a federal production tax credit of 1.8 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity produced by wind farms. But that applies only to power companies. It should be transferable to co-ops or municipal- or county-based groups, Sahr said.

The production credit is also temporary. Sahr and Johnson would like it to be made permanent.

For all of wind energy’s potential in South Dakota, an old problem remains, Sahr said. The state has plenty of wind. But more transmission lines are needed so the power can be moved to places such as the Twin Cities and Chicago where there are many consumers. Most existing transmission lines in South Dakota are near capacity, the commissioners said.

New power plants being built in the state might help ease the transmission problem. A new coal-burning plant is being built near Milbank. As it is, Sahr said nearby power lines will be expanded and have room to accommodate wind power.

Walworth County is also in the running for a large new power plant. If it is built near Selby or Mobridge, those power lines will also likely be expanded, Sahr said.

Potential plants: Sahr said it’s very likely that a new, large wind farm will be announced in the Brookings area next month. He also talked briefly about a potential plant in the Java area.

A series of hurdles have been cleared to help the Java project, Sahr said. Montana Dakota Utilities has agreed to buy the energy produced at the Java farm from Texas-based Superior Renewable Energies. But the two companies must agree on a price that will allow the wind farm to be financially successful.

There is also talk of building wind farms in the Watertown and Yankton areas and on American Indian reservations in the state, Sahr said.

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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