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Transmission a major obstacle to large-scale wind development  

South Dakota is among the top five windiest states in the country, but it faces major hurdles in turning that wind into electricity on a large scale, according to Michael Trykoski of Rapid City, chairman of the board of the South Dakota Energy Infrastructure Authority.

“There is no silver bullet, no magic fix,” Trykoski told about 100 people gathered for a Tuesday forum at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. Trykoski’s speech was based on a report published recently by the energy infrastructure authority.

The main obstacle is getting the energy produced by large-scale wind farms on the plains to the big cities that need it, Trykoski said.

He said South Dakota, like many other states, has a limited system of transmission lines.

Transmission lines across the country are already full, Trykoski said.

There are waiting lists of people and companies that generate electricity wanting to send their power via the transmission lines both on the power grid serving the western United States and the grid serving the eastern U.S.

The waiting list for the eastern grid is estimated at nearly 40 years, Trykoski said.

The two grids meet on the east side of Rapid City but are not connected directly.

Trykoski said another obstacle to transmitting energy from wind power in states such as South Dakota is the additional fees for getting onto a succession of transmission systems operated by various organizations within the grids.

Part of the problem, he said, is the physical lack of transmission-line capacity in both major grids and within South Dakota to move large amounts of wind electricity.

Building new transmission lines can cost up to $1 million a mile, he said.

Even if the state built additional transmission lines, it could do so only to the state’s borders, he said.

“The transmission challenges are not limited to South Dakota,” Trykoski said in a brief interview after his speech. He said solving the transmission problem is probably going to take a federal effort.

Trykoski emphasized that his report focused on harnessing South Dakota’s wind on a large scale, not on individual landowners’ wind generators.

He said the large-scale projects also face economic and environmental factors.

“Wind power alone can’t pay for major transmission-line construction,” Trykoski told the group.

He said a wild card in the economic picture is the uncertainty of the federal tax credit of two cents per kilowatt hour produced by wind. Congress must decide every year whether to reauthorize the tax credit. “Without that credit, wind has no economic chance,” Trykoski said.

Environmental obstacles could include federal protective easements over grasslands and wetlands, some of which include no-build zones; migration of endangered whooping cranes along a 200-mile-wide path following the Missouri River; and the state Historic Preservation Office’s no-build zones around historic sites, Trykoski said.

New transmission lines could also face objections by local residents, he said.

But Trykoski said wind power has great economic potential for individuals, who can receive $3,000 to $5,000 per year per turbine, as well as local and state governments, which can receive tax revenues from wind development.

Trykoski said the marketplace could overcome many of the obstacles. “As wind becomes more in demand in other areas, the market price will increase and may be enough to pay for transmission and more development,” he said.

He said there are a handful of wind-energy projects going in the state with more under construction.

Trykoski said the South Dakota Energy Infrastructure Authority was created by the Legislature in 2005 to serve as a resource for the governor and legislators. It does not make recommendations, he said.

South Dakota wind facts

Among the findings of the South Dakota Wind Power Report:

* 11 wind-monitoring towers in South Dakota measured winds of Class 4 or better. Anything above Class 3 is considered capable of wind-power development. The site at Murdo was listed as Class 7, the highest.

* Average wind speeds at the 11 sites ranged from 16.6 mph to 19.9 mph (Murdo) at a height of 50 meters.

* South Dakota’s winds generally peak from March through May, which does not correlate well with peak electrical loads.

* South Dakota’s winds are highest at nighttime, not an ideal match for the peak daily electrical loads occurring at mid-afternoon.

* Each turbine in a wind farm typically needs 60 to 73 acres of space to operate most effectively. The turbine tower takes up less than one acre.

* A 1991 federal study estimated that South Dakota has the potential to supply 25 percent of the nation’s electricity. However, that would require 377,700 turbines, and 22.6 million acres of land – about 47 percent of the land in the state. It would also require 51 new, large transmission lines, each with a 200-foot-wide right of way.

On the Net

Go to the South Dakota Wind Power Report on the South Dakota Energy Infrastructure Authority Web site: www.sdeia.com under “Reports.”

By Steve Miller, Journal staff

Rapid City Journal

20 February 2008

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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