A study conducted by South Dakota State University students to determine the feasibility of wind energy in Charles Mix County has determined that personal wind generators are the way to go.
The group of engineering students, which was hired by Charles Mix County, presented their results during Friday’s Agricultural Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Workshop at the Wagner High School Auditorium.
According to Charles Mix County Commissioner Red Allen, transmission issues factored heavily into the group’s decision.
It was the group’s opinion that the difficulty in finding transmission lines to distribute the power from a large wind farm meant that personal-use windmills were much more feasible.
“They’re recommending that people in Charles Mix County go with small wind generators for their homes,” he said. “You can get one that produces 800 kilowatts per month for $12,000 to $14,000.”
Allen expects the group to present its complete results at a set of future meetings in the area.
He wasn’t surprised by the group’s results. However, it did reinforce his disappointment in the way the federal government handles energy produced in the county.
“We gave up thousands of acres of riverboat land when they built the (Fort Randall) dam,” he said. “The state only gets 18 percent of the power.”
Earlier at the workshop, a former public utilities commissioner said agricultural producers could have more renewable energy opportunities in the future.
Jim Burg, now mayor of Wessington Springs, presented potential options to approximately 60 people during
Burg, who farms with his sons and brother near Wessington Springs, said he has a keen interest in alternative energy options for farmers and ranchers that was piqued after seeing a map of wind energy potential a decade ago.
“When I saw the potential, I got real interested,” he said.
As mayor, Burg was active in encouraging wind development in the area, although he admitted there were some challenges.
Not only is it difficult to find ways to transmit the power to other locations, it’s also hard to find providers willing to purchase the energy.
However, he’s confident that South Dakota has the capability to become a major wind power provider.
“It’s been said that if we could capture the power in South Dakota, we could do over half of the entire electricity to heat the United States,” he said.
Hydroelectric power is “probably the best power in the world,” he said, but there are limits to the amount available. That’s why it’s important to consider, and possibly invest, in alternative energy sources.
Ethanol and biodiesel could become a major part of alternative energy in the future. Burg said that some reports downplay the environmental safety of the fuel, with detractors saying it takes more energy to produce ethanol than what users get out of it.
What they’re neglecting to mention, Burg said, is the cost of transporting petroleum.
“For every BTU of energy you put in, you only get eight-tenths of a BTU back of petroleum,” he said. “With ethanol, for every BTU we put in, we get about 1.6 back.”
Ethanol production also results in distiller’s grain, a high-protein substance that many cattle producers, including Burg himself, use.
He’s got high hopes for the development of cellulosic ethanol, where switchgrass, wood chips and other substances are converted into biofuel. One of the big challenges of the process is figuring out how to break the cellulose down so the starches can be removed. The answer, he said, lies inside of a cow.
“What they’re really trying to find is how the heck does a cow’s gut work,” he said.
Burg spoke about a recent trip to Europe, where he and others toured facilities that produced hydrogen and wind energy as well as methane-capture facilities, where manure is broken down. The resulting methane gas is used as energy.
While in the Netherlands and Iceland, Burg learned about hydrogen energy. He’s unsure about the feasibility of replacing gasoline-powered automobiles with those fueled by hydrogen, because the development of a hydrogen fuel cell is moving slower than expected.
“It’s just not being developed,” he said. “It’s been 10 years away from usage for the last 20 years.”
Friday’s workshop also featured presentations on energy efficiency, solar energy and anaerobic digesters.
By Austin Kaus
16 February 2008
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