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Distributed Wind in South Dakota

December 1, 2010

By Jeanne Koster, recent SDRC board member, Watertown, SD

During the recent election period, Scott Heidepriem’s campaign issued the following statement:

We could explore the possibility of eliminating the need for long-transmission lines and utilize wind energy closer to the source (Minnesota and Iowa are two states that have done this successfully).

At last, some common sense on wind.

I live in the Watertown area. Before the Big Stone II coal-fired power plant scheme so deservedly bit the dust, Watertown’s municipal utility bought into a notion peddled at the time by Big Stone II promoters. Watertown, it was said, needed to invest in coal power from Big Stone II to pave the way for wind power development in our state. That wind power development was being held up by lack of long distance transmission lines capable of carrying wind electricity from centralized mega wind farms in SD to lucrative out-of-state markets.

Big Stone II partners oh-SO-generously promised to build more transmission than the new coal plant would need. The coal plant’s leftover transmission capacity could get power to market from big wind farms in our state.

The coal plant’s leftover transmission capacity could get power to market from big wind farms in our state.

In other words, Watertown would get to eat expensive coal so out-of-state metros could power up with wind, made more expensive by its long trip on high lines. Shareholders in out-of-state and foreign power development companies could prosper, meanwhile blessing our state with some wind industry jobs and lucrative tower site leases. But wind power was definitely held hostage, pending development of a dirty coal plant and the long-distance transmission lines destined primarily for coal plant use.

New highlines cost megabucks just for construction, not to mention the inevitable court battles. And how many megawatts would be wasted due to line losses on the long trip from centralized wind farms to market destinations? All this winds up on the consumer’s electric bill.

Watertown, like many South Dakota towns, is surrounded by pretty good wind sites, maybe not suitable for mega-wind farms but with potential for smaller clusters of turbines that could use existing local distribution networks. Potential, in other words, for distributed wind power, used close to the point of generation, without expensive and wasteful transmission over long distances.

South Dakota consumers would benefit directly in their monthly bills over the long haul; local economies and employment totals would benefit more; grids would be strengthened—all if we invested in more efficient use of already existing (smartened and beefed up) local distributive infrastructure, supported by existing long-distance highlines as intertie for balancing purposes.

Bonus: Electric vehicles can use off-peak windpower generation, substantially lessening our state’s dependence on oil and eventually providing smart-grid-mediated local vehicle-to-grid peaking capability.

Let the FPL’s and Iberdrolas do their expensive, outmoded, centralized thing on their own dime and foist the expensive results on folks in other states who are not as smart and resourceful as South Dakotans can be with proper leadership.

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