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South Dakota Public Utilities Commisioner seeks input on wind power proposal

(Monday, March 15, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Terry O'Keefe, Watertown (S. Dakota, Minnesota) Public Opinion:

PIERRE - The S.D. Public Utilities Commissioner is encouraging South Dakotans to give their input on a proposed study on developing transmission capacity for up to 500 megawatts of wind-generated electricity in the Dakotas.

The study is being proposed by the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) and will be funded through the federal Department of Energy. The federal agency is asking for ideas on how to conduct and what to include in a study that would identify what changes or additions to WAPA's electrical transmission system would be needed to handle such a huge amount of new wind energy from North and South Dakota.

The project was announced in February at an industry conference held in Fargo, N.D., and the PUC says input from South Dakota residents is important.

"WAPA needs to hear from all of us that the development of wind energy is a top priority for South Dakotans," PUC Chairman Bob Sahr said in a release. "We need to work together to help spur more clean, renewable energy in South Dakota."

Sam Miller, project manager for the Dakotas Wind Transmission Study, out of the WAPA regional office in Billings, Mont., said earlier that $750,000 has been earmarked for the study.

"We need to define what the scope would be to place transmission of 500 MW of electric transmission," Miller said. "This (study) is strictly focused on North and South Dakota as the legislation is written."

Miller said there are no specific plans by anyone to develop such a huge wind energy transmission system in the Dakotas, but there has apparently been enough interest shown to generate the transmission study.

"We need to see what transmission facilities enhancements would be necessary," Miller said. "Not that we are (necessarily) going to implement the enhancements, but if there was 500 MW of wind energy, what would it take to transmit it."

Recently, WAPA, which confines its operations to mainly providing transmission systems for electrical power, worked with cooperatives in both Chamberlain and Highmore to develop plans for wind farms that are now in operation.

If a 500 MW wind generation system were built across the Dakotas, Watertown Municipal Utilities General Manager Geoff Heig said the spinoff economics would be significant.

"The 500 MW of wind power generation would be about a $500 million (construction) investment in North and South Dakota," Heig said. "It would be a huge investment. I think it's a good idea that they do the study.

"It sounds like they're saying, we've had so many requests, we should do a study."

With both North and South Dakota being highly rated in terms of wind power potential, S.D. PUC Vice-Chairman Gary Hanson said the development could provide a great opportunity for the state.

"It is widely known that South Dakota has the ability to provide a significant portion of the electrical needs for the United States through wind generation," Hanson said. "A significant challenge for wind development is the transmission of energy generated by wind to those areas that need additional energy supply."

PUC officials listed a number of benefits that could be derived from developing wind power in the state including less air pollution, decreased dependence on natural gas and lowering home heating costs, lesser dependence on limited supplies of fossil fuels and the economic impact that could be brought to farmers and ranchers who lease their land for wind farms.

"There is so much more we can do to capitalize on our wind assets," said PUC Commissioner Jim Burg. "We encourage everyone to let WAPA know how important the development of this form of renewable energy is to South Dakota."

WAPA is requesting comments on study objectives, outcomes and methods. Comments can be e-mailed to UGPDakotasWindTS@wapa.gov using the subject "Dakotas Wind Study comments".

Written comments can be sent to:

Mr. Sam Miller, Dakotas Wind Study Project Manager,
Western Area Power Administration
Box 35800
Billings, Mont. 59107-5800.
Comments must be submitted by 4 p.m. Mountain Time March 22.