Multiple wind turbine construction projects have brought hundreds of workers to the Watertown area over the last few months.
Codington, Grant, Roberts and Clark counties have wind farm construction projects that started in the summer. The sudden uptick in wind farms is partially credited to a national push for renewable energy sources. South Dakota is also an ideal location for wind energy, where the wind blows at full capacity 40% of the time, which is the third-highest in the nation.
“We are shifting away from coal-based energy, expanding renewables and will continue to use our carbon-free nuclear plants,” said Randy Fordice, Xcel Energy senior media relations representative.
The construction of wind towers and harnessing the energy is much cheaper than it used to be thanks to advancements in technology, which makes now the ideal time for construction.
Dakota Range III in Grant and Roberts counties will have 42 wind turbines when completed, generating 152 megawatts of energy. Dakota Range I and II are expected to be built in 2021, Fordice said.
Crowned Ridge Wind, LCC in Grant and Codington counties is near completion. Tyler Wilhelm, associate project manager, said the 53,186 acre project has been in the works for more than a decade. More than 300 construction workers have been contracted for the project, which began in August and is anticipated to be fully operational by Dec. 31.
Three hundred megawatts will be generated by the 130 turbines constructed. One megawatt of energy can power about 1,000 homes, depending on the conditions. Wilhelm said the wind farm will create up to 12 full-time jobs in Grant and Codington counties upon its completion, which is a job that will last for 25 years.
“Those people will be within either Grant or Codington County full time and will ultimately become members of the community,” Wilhelm said.
Crowned Ridge II, which will be in Grant, Codington and Deuel counties, is currently going through the approval process with the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (SDPUC).
Xcel will purchase the energy generated by the wind turbines. Each wind farm will generate millions of dollars in tax revenues for the next 20 years.
The projects also bring revenue to the area during construction, due to the hundreds of construction workers who become temporary residents of the region. Tim Sheehan, president and CEO of the Watertown Area Chamber, said hotels are booked up for months at a time to accommodate the workers.
Sheehan said 40% of guests at MyPlace Hotel, which opened about six weeks ago, are with the wind projects, and that’s just one hotel’s data. He also said restaurants and the Dakota Sioux Casino have seen an increase in patronage since the wind projects’ construction began.
This has a good impact on tax revenue, too. The only negative aspect Sheehan could think of with the surge of temporary residents to the area is longer wait times at restaurants and less available rooms at area hotels, which he said is a good problem to have.
However, not everyone in the area agrees that wind energy is a good thing. According to a South Dakota News Watch article from September, most wind farms approved for construction in the state received opposition from neighbors about the impact the 500-foot tall towers, including noise, light flicker, wildlife impacts and property value changes.
The local wind farms are part of a state-wide construction boom in wind energy. Eight projects were approved within the last year, and two more are under consideration by the SDPUC. Altogether, nearly 900 wind towers will be built, generating more than 2,500 megawatts of energy. The projects total more than $3 billion in investment to the state.
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