LAKE ANDES – In Charles Mix County, new ideas for generating electricity are blowing in the wind.
Recently, the county commissioners have become interested in wind energy. They are looking at lowering the use of grid-power electricity throughout the county by using wind to generate electricity.
Commission Chairman Carrol “Red” Allen of Lake Andes said energy bills have soared for cities, school districts and businesses in the county.
“The county spends $30,000 to $40,000 a year on energy,” he said. “The City of Lake Andes spends a similar amount, and the Lake Andes Co-op Elevator spends $20,000.”
Allen said his interest in wind energy and other renewable power was stimulated at a state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) meeting in Avon.
“I looked at the charts, and I would say that Charles Mix County would be a prime area for wind energy,” he said.
While the interest existed, the Charles Mix commissioners were unsure of the feasibility of such a project, Allen said.
“I talked to (PUC commissioner) Steve Kolbeck and asked if there was any person who wanted to be involved with the energy project,” he said. “Steve said that Brookings (South Dakota State University) was looking for projects for their senior engineering students.”
The SDSU team of Matt Hein, Aaron Boomsma, Josh Regnier, Matt Fodness, and Kody Karschnik will conduct the feasibility study. They receive payment only for travel and meals. The team will communicate with officials, conduct research, analyze data, create solutions and present results.
“The primary focus is not reinventing the wheel,” Hein said. “We are looking at applying what is already done, along with studying the area for other information.”
The wind energy project seeks to promote community development, to save taxpayers’ money and to promote sustainable energy.
While still in its early stages, the project has drawn interest, Hein said. “Everybody has been very supportive of the project. There is a lot of enthusiasm,” he said.
The SDSU group plans to visit Charles Mix County up to three times per semester. As project manager, Hein has set up a Web site at http://mkhein.com/charlesmix/objective.html. He invites the public to visit the site and offer input.
The team plans to conclude research in December, draw conclusions in January and file a final report May 1, Hein said.
When it comes to supply, the Charles Mix County wind blows strong and consistently at an average 15 to 17 miles per hour, the SDSU team said. The county also has a good network of transmission lines, they said. Wind turbines could be located in any configuration, such as three turbines in nine locations or one turbine in 27 locations, the team said.
During this week’s presentation in Lake Andes, the SDSU team addressed several issues surrounding wind energy. They said wind turbines do not harm birds or the environment, are neither noisy nor unsightly, and do not decrease property values in surrounding areas.
The team showed a sample of a 3-D turbine model. The members explained the turbine’s life cycle, average capacity, average size, average wind farm size and manufacturers.
A turbine can contain a sensor shutting down the system if winds exceed 55 miles per hour, Hein said. Taller turbines – reaching a maximum of 400 feet – generate more wind speed and more energy, he said.
“The turbines are very smart. They optimize the efficiency. They have stress sensors,” he said. “There were ice storms in northeast South Dakota, and the turbines recognized the extra stress and shut themselves down when they were notified.”
Turbines even attract tourists who have described the scene as “majestic” during early morning and fog, Hein said.
But is the wind reliable?
South Dakota consistently ranks among the top five states in the nation for wind potential, the SDSU engineers said. South Dakota has the potential for 1 billion kilowatt-hours, or 1 million megawatt-hours. In contrast, the state currently generates only 44 megawatts, the team said.
In the continental United States, 6 percent of the land area could produce enough wind to meet 1 1/2 times the current national consumption, the SDSU team said.
“Minnesota and Iowa are further ahead of South Dakota, but the United States is way behind Europe,” Hein said.
The federal government offers a wind-energy production tax credit of 1.9 cents per kilowatt hour for the first 10 years of operation, the team said. The average cost of producing wind energy is 4 to 6 cents before the tax credit, making the tax credit a “very significant reduction,” they said.
The team also outlined U.S. Department of Energy grants, subsidized loans, tribal energy programs and U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development funds.
The Charles Mix County Commission is not the only local entity studying wind energy, as the Yankton Sioux Tribe has researched the possibility. YST wind energy committee member Faith Spotted Eagle has joined the discussion with county officials and the SDSU students.
The discussion has included the possibility of a wind farm, the geographical, political and financial aspects of such a project and possible time lines.
The Yankton Sioux are interested in collaborating with the county, Spotted Eagle said. For now, though, the tribe is determining the best path for its members, she said.
“The main focus, right now, is in the research mode. We do have some alternatives we are looking at,” she said. “We are trying to get the clearest picture we can get, just like the Charles Mix County Commissioners.”
The Yankton Sioux Tribe is undergoing a transition with a newly-elected tribal council, Spotted Eagle said. New faces will join her committee, but she looks for continued interest in wind energy.
“We are excited about the new leadership coming in,” she said. “With the transition, we have three slots to fill out of five on the committee. We hope they do (committee appointments) within the next month.”
The Yankton Sioux wind-energy committee has conducted three site visits in Minnesota, Spotted Eagle said. One operation was an individual owner with a wind turbine on his farm. A second was a farmers’ cooperative, while the third was a corporate structure with large investors.
The Yankton Sioux are looking at federal funds as one way of financing wind energy development, Spotted Eagle said. The tribe is also working with Rosebud Sioux officials involved with a wind-farm development and has joined the Intertribal Council On Utilities and Projects (ICOUP).
Regardless of the Yankton Sioux committee findings, the final decision rests with the General Council, or full tribal membership, she said.
Charles Mix County and the Yankton Sioux Tribe have both wind and transmission possibilities for the renewable-energy project, said PUC chairman Dusty Johnson.
“They have good wind areas in Charles Mix County. The wind map shows there are a number of very high-quality areas,” he said. “The other good news is that Charles Mix is located on the Missouri River. At Pickstown, there are transmission lines taking electricity from those hydroelectric dams to other states.”
However, such a project is not as easy as it sounds and requires extensive study, Johnson said.
“It’s a lot more complicated than just jumping on someone else’s transmission line,” he said. “And the economics have not always been as favorable in wind as we want them to be. We now have some of the cheapest electricity in the entire country in South Dakota.”
The process becomes even more complicated if the wind farms are producing large amounts of energy for sale to another utility, Johnson said.
A wind-energy project could take advantage of federal energy production tax credits or government renewable energy bonds, the PUC chairman said. A local government or non-profit entity may find it advantageous to partner with the private sector that can take advantage of tax credits, he said.
Johnson said he’s not surprised that the Yankton Sioux are pursuing renewable energy, pointing to the Rosebud Sioux wind farm.
“The last couple of years, the reservations in Indian Country have gotten a lot more aggressive look at wind power,” he said.
The size of a wind-energy project would determine whether the PUC would become involved in a Charles Mix County and/or Yankton Sioux operation, Johnson said.
“Where do we get involved? Not usually if it’s a small thing. Once it’s a very large project, we have to sign off on the siting permit,” he said. “We do get involved with small projects generally with our expertise. We are able to help the group figure what makes sense.”
Charles Mix County officials and residents seem interested in wind energy even if it doesn’t turn a large profit, Hein said.
“It’s nice to know we have this support, that they see the importance of the project,” he said. “But we will look at the bottom line. ‘Optimize’ is the key word.”
The SDSU team will tailor its effort to meet Charles Mix County’s unique needs, Hein said.
“This is not a cookie-cutter operation,” he said. “We are trying to make it the best it can be. We want to come back and be more local (with our plan).”
The Charles Mix County project could be used as a model for the state and nation, Hein said.
“This is sustainable energy. We see it as the future,” he said. “This isn’t a good option – it’s a good necessity.”
By: Randy Dockendorf
13 October 2007
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