A group of Lincoln County landowners announced their intentions Tuesday to build a large wind farm that could power 300,000 homes, but offered few other details on the project that still is years from completion.
Dakota Power Community Wind, a group of Lincoln County landowners and community leaders formed last year to look at developing a wind farm, has been working with Aberdeen-based wind farm developer Dakota Plains Energy to lay the groundwork for the potential project. The hope, according to some of the group’s board members, is to help develop the county’s economy by tapping into its wind resources.
“I can’t underestimate the importance of investing in our future,” said Beresford Mayor and Dakota Board Vice Chairman Jim Fedderson.
The group says more than 1,000 temporary construction jobs and up to 70 full-time positions could be created by the wind farm if it reaches its target size of 1,000 megawatts, enough to power up to 300,000 American homes.
“It doubles the size of South Dakota’s current wind projects at the final size of the project,” said Paul Shubeck, chairman of Dakota Power Community Wind’s board of directors.
But the project is up to five years from being able to generate electricity. Construction cannot begin until environmental impact studies, government compliance studies and a full analysis of Lincoln County’s average wind speeds are completed. Other challenges include securing land, while financing details have yet to be released. The project also is dependent on the Rock Island Clean Line electrical transmission line that has a tentative completion date of 2018.
“I would like to see it completed, but there’s a lot of stumbling blocks,” Shubeck said.
Nothing about the project is set in stone as yet, said president and co-founder of Dakota Plains Energy Rob Johnson, who is helping Dakota Power Community Wind plan the project.
“There are an awful lot of moving pieces, that’s for certain, but every time you get past one of these steps, you’re closer to ensuring success,” Johnson said. “We haven’t committed anything to paper yet, we’re just at the very beginning stages.”
Project leaders hope to include between 65,000 and 75,000 acres of Lincoln County in the wind farm, Johnson said. That goal and the whole project hinges on the willingness of landowners to participate in the wind farm.
“If we don’t get a sufficient number of participating landowners, it doesn’t make any sense to continue,” Johnson said.
Recruiting landowners to participate will begin this summer, according to Shubert.
“It’s a voluntary deal; if people want to do it they can, if they don’t, they don’t have to,” Shubert said.
The turbines, Johnson said, probably would be spaced between 75 and 100 acres apart and would need about half an acre for the turbine’s base and half an acre for an access road to the turbine.
Dakota Power Community Wind’s board was unwilling to talk about how they plan to finance the project, because it is still early in their timeline. Board members and Johnson also cited compliance reasons for not wanting to talk about the potential income an individual landowner who agrees to host a turbine could see.
The group said in a news release that it believed the project could generate up to $7 million of income for area landowners as a whole and as much as $8 million in state and local tax revenue if it reaches its target size.
The project’s Lincoln County location was chosen for two reasons, Johnson said. The first was the construction of the Rock Island Clean Line electrical transmission line, which is designed to bring “clean energy” from northwest Iowa and the surrounding region to states with high energy demands. The Rock Island project also is in the planning phase with a tentative completion date in 2018.
The Dakota Power Community Wind Project also must construct a little more than 60 miles of transmission lines to reach the Rock Island line’s western terminus in Iowa. The cost of that project could be as much as $750,000 a mile, Johnson said.
“South Dakota has a great wind regime; it’s one of those situations where most of us just don’t appreciate it, quite honestly, that’s because we don’t embrace it and we don’t monetize it,” Johnson said.
The goal of the wind farm isn’t necessarily to generate electricity for South Dakotans but rather to export energy to eastern states with higher demand. One of the biggest obstacles to wind power development in South Dakota, according to Johnson, has been outdated electrical transmission lines.
“We can produce more electricity in South Dakota than we can use,” Shubeck said.
Dakota Plains Energy, according to Johnson, originally approached several Lincoln County landowners about creating a community wind project last year to capitalize on the Rock Island line. The company already is working on a 300 megawatt community wind project in Campbell County near Pollack.
“We don’t have the natural gas that North Dakota has. The resource we have is wind, and we’re not monetizing it,” Johnson said.
Lincoln County was chosen for the project in part because preliminary wind data collected by wind energy consulting firm AWS Truepower showed Lincoln County’s average wind speeds and geography were ideal for wind power generation.
“One of the things we came across was in Lincoln County, there weren’t any mountains or anything like that,” Johnson said.
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