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For States to Reach Full Wind Potential, National Effort Needed

August 10, 2009

Audio with Steve Wegman, South Dakota Wind Energy Association Executive Director. (MP3 2.8 MB) Download Windows Media Player. Time: 00:02:59

South Dakota ranks among the top five states when it comes to wind energy potential. The state could produce more than one-trillion kilowatt hours of electricity each year. That's enough to power almost a quarter of the entire country. But when it comes to wind installation, South Dakota barely makes the top 20. Steve Wegman, Executive Director of the South Dakota Wind Energy Association, says there are a couple of reasons for that.

"Some of the problems that we have are lack of transmission capabilities. The best way to explain it; it's like having a million bushels of corn, but all I have is a five-gallon bucket to get it to Chicago. It's going to take me a long time. And South Dakota is also divided by both the MISO footprint and the Western Area, Basin Electric, Northwestern footprint in transmission. So we have this issue of pancaking of rates, which makes South Dakota wind energy at this time, not competitive into the MISO market."

What's more — like with any new industry — Wegman says there's been some reluctance to try wind energy at the local level. So if South Dakota is going to reach the eight gigawatt goal identified by the Department of Energy in its 20-percent Wind Energy by 2030 report, Wegman says it's going to take a national effort to build the industry — starting with wind projects today — and continuing on for the next 15 to 20 years.

"A lot of people forget that back in the Depression era, hydro-electric was unreliable, was not cost effective and the federal government stepped up to the plate and created the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Missouri River project, the Bonneville Power Authority; and built hydropower as a very cost effective and reliable energy supply. This is the same thing that we need this time. We need to have the federal government and all of the partners in this project come together, build not only transmission, but to build and maintain an industry so that it can be reliable, cost effective, and provide jobs for Americans."

To deal with that issue of transmission, Wegman sees four possible models.

"One, we muddle along the way we have been and it really doesn't get done on an effective basis; we do a policy on a national grid, kind of like an interstate system; or we do a public, private partnership where we step up and build transmission as a both public entity and as private utilities; and the fourth one, use a toll road method. The key thing is not to pick one, but to pick the best two out of that four, because competition really makes America strive, really makes things grow, and we'll get the job done."

Taking a look at the bigger picture — despite the economic crisis — the U.S. wind energy industry has added just over four-thousand megawatts of new power generating capacity through the first six months of the year.

Audio provided by Stacia Cudd, National Association of Farm Broadcasting News Service.

More Information

Here are links to reports and information discussed in this story. Some of the following documents are available as Adobe Acrobat PDFs. Download Adobe Reader.

  • 20% Wind Energy by 2030

    Visit the 20% Wind Energy by 2030 Web site and read the full report (PDF 4.0 MB).

  • Systems Integration and Transmission

    Read about how National Renewable Energy Laboratory researchers look at improving the use of the existing transmission system and expanding the power grid to deliver energy from windfarms to customers to support increasing the penetration of wind energy throughout the country.

  • Installed Wind Capacity

    Provides an overview of how much power installed wind projects are producing. It also provides links to other Web sites, which provide specific details about individual wind projects.

—Julie Jones