STURGIS – Data from a meteorological tower in Meade County is already showing encouraging results that it is in an ideal location for a large-scale wind farm.
Duke Energy, a renewable energy business headquartered out of Charlotte, N.C., began collecting wind data in 2009, and a spokesperson for the company said Wednesday those results are encouraging.
This tower, commonly referred to as a “Met Tower,” is located along Alkali Road, just outside of Sturgis.
“We are in the very early stages of developing a wind farm,” said Greg Efthimiou, with Duke Energy. “We’re collecting data at this point to find out if this project merits further examination.”
Steve Wegman, the executive director of the South Dakota Wind Energy Association, said Duke Energy is one of many companies competing for wind energy projects in western South Dakota.
“All of them are in the preliminary stages and for the most part, it takes a long time before any of them will come online,” Wegman said. “In many cases, from the initial contact of landowners, to before construction begins, it can take upwards of five years.”
Because the company is simply in the exploratory stage, Efthimiou said that no specifics on the scale, or exact location of the project, have been set in stone.
“In the early stages of any such project we seek to establish a dialogue with local and state government officials, community leaders and other stakeholders,” he said. “These introductory conversations, which are beginning now, are intended to introduce Duke Energy and provide a high-level overview about wind energy to the community.”
Efthimiou explained the advantages of constructing a large-scale wind farm in Meade County include the proximity to transmission lines that the wind project could tap into, and the availability of private land for potential lease.
Efthimiou immediately addressed the proximity of Bear Butte.
“We’re certainly aware of, and respect the significance of regional heritage land,” he said. “Although there is no defined footprint for the potential wind project at this early stage of development, we do know any future design work would include a significant buffer from sites of such importance.”
He added that this is one of several potential wind projects the company is looking at developing throughout the United States, and said that until the company will only commit to building a commercial renewable energy project until after it has signed a long-term agreement with a power purchaser, typically regional utilities, electric cooperatives or municipalities.
He added that Duke Energy officials wait to develop any wind farm until they have a power purchase agreement in place, meaning they have a long-term contract with a power facility or municipality, and Efthimiou said they haven’t secured one yet.
“There is always a chance that a wind farm won’t be constructed in Meade County,” he said. “It’s critical to also note that we have not filed a project application with the county, and we do not intend to do so until we feel we’ve done our due diligence and developed a solid understanding of various stakeholders’ perspectives.”
Wegeman said the actual construction of a wind farm, depending on the size, takes less than 180 days.
“That’s the easy part … finding a customer to buy the electricity is the hard part … it’s a competitive business and everybody has access to electricity.”
Wegeman said the most important thing for people to understand about the wind power business, is that they don’t sell wind power.
“We sell electricity, as do several other businesses and that’s why it’s such a competitive business,” he said.
As for the chances of these many wind development projects coming online in South Dakota, Wegeman said the success of any wind energy company in South Dakota is directly related to economic development.
“We need growth to create a need for more electricity,” he said. “We’re just not seeing that right now.”
Duke Energy is no stranger to the wind energy business and how competitive it can be. In 2010, the company built a 251-megawatt wind farm in Kit Carson, Colo., and most recently completed a 200-megawatt project, dubbed the “Top of the World Windpower Project,” in Converse County, near Casper, Wyo.
Efthimiou added that in addition to the Meade County project, the company has more than 5,500 megawatts in its pipeline for potential projects. He explained that within that portfolio there are advanced, medium and early stage projects.
“The project in Meade County is definitely in the early stages,” Efghimiou said.
Duke Energy is a commercial wind energy business that has upwards of 1,000 mega-watts of wind energy online at nine wind farms in the United States. Since 2007, they have invested more than $1.5 billion, and are already in the top 10 for wind generation capacity.
To put the amount of energy that is produced by an average large-scale wind power facility into perspective, one megawatt would serve approximately 300 homes with electricity. A typical residential home uses 1.8 kilowatts an hour, while small businesses such as a hotel or a grocery store, uses 500 kilowatts an hour.
For more information on wind energy in South Dakota and the local Wind Resource Assessment Network, visit www.sdwind.com.
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