BURKE – If the plans of Rob and Heath Johnson come to fruition, Gregory and Tripp counties will be home to the largest wind farm in the nation.
Representing Dakota Plains Energy, the two Aberdeen men told nearly 40 landowners Wednesday that their support could lead to the construction of a 1,000-megawatt wind farm. That’s about six times the generating power of the wind farm recently constructed near White Lake.
The Johnsons did not provide a total cost estimate for the project but said it would require about $2 million for every megawatt. At 1,000 megawatts, that equates to $2 billion. The Johnsons did not say how the project would be funded but said in a news release that they aim for “significant local ownership.”
Rob Johnson, president of Dakota Plains Energy, said the farm’s size would not only stimulate the economies of the county and state but also lead to the creation of a means to transmit the energy produced.
The two men held their first meeting on the project, dubbed Dakota Community Wind, in Burke. Another meeting was held later Wednesday in Bonesteel.
Johnson and his son, Dakota Plains Energy Vice President Heath Johnson, said the project would surpass an 845-megawatt wind project currently in the works in northeastern Oregon. Dakota Plains Energy
The Dakota Community Wind project needs area landowners to commit enough acres to support the concept, the Johnson said. When major companies associated with transmission lines see the commitment to the project, he said, they’re more likely to build a transmission site in the area.
“We know 1,000 megawatts will get their attention,” Rob Johnson said. “Nobody’s doing anything. It’s time for everybody to quit talking and do something.”
Johnson said there are currently two planned networks of transmission lines in development.
International Transmission Company of Novi, Mich., is hoping to construct the Green Power Express, a $12 billion network of extra-high-voltage, 765,000-kilovolt transmission lines.
That plan involves constructing lines through Fort Thompson. Heath Johnson wants to see that site moved to Burke, and he believes the pursuit of a 1,000-megawatt wind farm will help make the switch happen.
“We’ve got lots of wind. We have no transmission,” Heath Johnson said. “That’s going to continue to be the issue for some time unless we can do something to change the game.”
The other transmission project is a plan by Electric Transmission America – a joint venture of American Electric Power and MidAmerican Energy Holdings – to construct 765-kilovolt, extra-high-voltage transmission lines.
Heath Johnson said only one will be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Neither has announced specific transmission line locations.
“They’re kind of similar plans,” Rob Johnson said. “We just need to give either of them a reason to come.”
Rod Hartog, Burke, helped form the South Central Wind Landowners Association LLC earlier this year.
Hartog, the president of the South Central Wind Association, told attendees that an earlier survey showed area landowners were willing to pledge 250,000 acres to the project.
Wednesday, he said he hopes to see that support not only continue but help make the Dakota Community Wind project become a reality.
“I hope those people are interested right now. It isn’t going to happen unless you guys make up your mind,” Hartog said. “We’re sitting on a golden egg right here. All we have to do is make it hatch.”
The Johnsons estimated that an operational 1,000-megawatt wind farm would bring in $3,000 per megawatt annually to Gregory County and provide $4.5 million annually to the state. It was not immediately clear if they were referencing tax revenues, economic impact or both.
Rob Johnson estimated the project would create 1,100 construction jobs. While those jobs would end after completion of the project, 50 ongoing, onsite jobs and 130 project-related jobs would be permanent, he said.
“There’s money in this thing for everybody,” Rob Johnson said. “Without it, we’ll just keep cussing the wind. It won’t make us any money.”
The project won’t come cheap. Rob Johnson estimated that $2 million would need to be spent for each megawatt of power planned for production. Of the three pre-construction phases planned for the project, the first two – which involve data collection and numerous studies – are expected to cost between $2.5 and $3.5 million. The third phase, involving permit acquisition and a power purchase agreement, could cost up to $4.5 million.
The number of towers that would come from the project would depend on the type of turbine purchased. Rob Johnson estimated that using 1.6-megawatt turbines would mean a wind farm of approximately 600 turbines.
While much of the crowd remained stoic throughout the presentation, Hartog’s inquiry to the audience about whether or not they were interested was met with sporadic nods and one attendee’s exclamation of “Go for it!”
“We’ll keep pushing as hard as we can,” Hartog responded.
After the meeting concluded, Brad Adams, Fairfax, said he’s behind the project, especially because no government money is proposed for funding.
“It’s a good thing,” Adams said. “I wish it could be quicker.”
Joel Keierleber, a Tripp County landowner, South Dakota Wind Partners board member and 2010 Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives, said he’s very interested in the project.
Harnessing the power of the wind in the area could mean tremendous financial gain for landowners, area counties and the state, he said.
“The state’s never seen a project of this magnitude,” Keierleber said. “(Companies) are not going to build a power line to something that doesn’t exist.”
“You look out there and you’ve got another million-dollar day blowing away,” Keierleber said.
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