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Published June 10, 2010, 05:03 PM

South Dakota wind farm moves ahead with plans

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The first phase of a 300-megawatt, $600 million wind farm is a go for Campbell County, and when completed in 2013, its turbines could spin enough energy to power 90,000 homes.

By: Thom Gabrukiewicz, The Argus Leader

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The first phase of a 300-megawatt, $600 million wind farm is a go for Campbell County, and when completed in 2013, its turbines could spin enough energy to power 90,000 homes.

Aberdeen-based Dakota Plains Energy is behind the Campbell County Wind Farm. The renewable energy developer already has secured about 17,000 of the 25,000 acres it needs to begin construction, Dakota Plains vice president Heath Johnson said. The farm will sit along three ridges just east of the Missouri River south of Pollock.

“We’re trying to grow our county back to what it was,” said Campbell County economic development coordinator Ralph Hanson of Pollock. “I think we fit the bill, and we certainly have the wind.”

The only thing the project lacks is a permit from the Public Utilities Commission. All wind farms scheduled to produce more than 100 megawatts need permits — and a buyer for the electricity.

“We’re probably going to go forward in two phases, the first being 99 megawatts so we won’t need PUC approval,” Johnson said. “There would be some overlap, but to do it quickly, this is the way we plan to do it.”

The project comes at a time when the addition of megawatt hours from wind has slowed in the U.S., according to officials with the American Wind Energy Association. In the first quarter of this year, the industry added 539 megawatts, the lowest first-quarter total since 2007.

“Policy drives young energy industries as well as established ones, and depending on the policies put in place now, we could be hiring or firing by the end of the year and in the years to come,” Denise Bode, CEO of the wind association, said in a news release. “Stimulus funding successfully saved thousands of megawatts of shovel-ready wind projects and over 40,000 jobs in 2009, but we are setting up a vacuum if we don’t drive stable demand with a national renewable electricity standard.”

A national standard would require electric utilities to generate a minimum percent of their electricity from renewable resources. The national standard calls for 25 percent renewable-based electricity by 2025, which would create almost 300,000 jobs.

So far, 29 states and the District of Columbia have adopted individual energy standards programs. South Dakota has a voluntary goal that 10 percent of all retail electricity sold in the state be from renewable and recycled energy by 2015. The state’s wind farms generate 412 megawatts of power.

Campbell County Wind Farm would push the state closer to the 1,000-megawatt generation club, which consists of 14 states, including Iowa. The project would put the state’s generation at 714 megawatts, with another 151.5 megawatts potentially coming online this year from PrairieWinds SD1 farm near Crow Lake.

Also in play is the $700 million, 306-megawatt Buffalo Ridge II farm planned for Brookings and Deuel counties. The PUC approved Oregon-based Iberdrola Renewables construction plans in April 2009. Company officials said the farm could be operational by December.

“They’re a step closer than they were yesterday,” Steve Wegman, executive director of the South Dakota Wind Energy Association, said of Dakota Plains’ plans.

“But we are getting close to that magic number of 1,000 megawatts,” Wegman added. “We see good things coming down the pike for South Dakota wind.”

Campbell County’s 771 square miles is inhabited by 1,782 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The largest city, Herreid, has 442 residents.

“We’re trying to bring new development to this county,” Hanson said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. But this certainly helps. I think it’s a great plan.”

During construction, the farm could generate 500 construction jobs, with 30 permanent maintenance jobs created once it’s operational, Johnson said. The project is expected to contribute $4.5 million in tax payments to South Dakota and Campbell County once fully built.

“We’ve had nothing but support from landowners,” he said. “They want to see this fly, and the county will greatly appreciate the help, economically.”

The company has been collecting wind data for the past 18 months and both environmental and avian studies are under way, Johnson said. But more importantly, Dakota Plains has gained acceptance from the Western Area Power Administration to link the farm to the transmission grid. Two north/south transmission lines run along the ridges. One is owned by Basin Electric and is at capacity; the other is owned by WAPA.

“Of course, we’d like to start this sooner rather than later, but it’s in WAPA’s hands right now,” Johnson said. “We’re ready to go.”