End of Big Stone could be trouble for S.D. windSouth Dakota’s wind industry may be “sidetracked” by the recent termination of plans to build a coal-fired power plant in the northeastern part of the state, according to a spokesman for the governor.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
South Dakota’s wind industry may be “sidetracked” by the recent termination of plans to build a coal-fired power plant in the northeastern part of the state, according to a spokesman for the governor.
When Gov. Mike Rounds spoke to The Daily Republic two years ago about the proposed Big Stone II power plant near Milbank, he said the state was “really counting on that to get our wind power over to larger population centers.” Transmission lines that were proposed to be built with the plant would have contained extra capacity for wind-energy transmission.
Following news of the project’s failure, Rounds’ press secretary, Joe Kafka, issued a written statement last week to The Daily Republic.
“The governor feels it’s a setback to development of the wind-energy sector in the state, because enhanced transmission capacity was tied to the project,” Kafka wrote. “Without the ability to move larger amounts of wind energy to markets in large cities to the east, plans for future wind-energy projects may be sidetracked.”
Big Stone II’s fate was sealed recently when Otter Tail Power, of Fergus Falls, Minn., pulled out of the $1.6 billion project partnership. Otter Tail cited concerns about pending “cap and trade” legislation, which would require air polluters such as power plants to obtain permits and buy pollution allowances. The rest of the project partners pulled out when no replacement for Otter Tail could be recruited to invest.
Last week, it was reported that the project partners asked the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to preserve the route for the transmission lines. The request did not indicate who may be interested in the route, or what new power would be carried.
South Dakota is now left without a way to transmit large amounts of its potential wind power to places that need it. The state is ranked No. 4 nationally in potential wind-energy capacity, but only No. 20 in actual capacity from existing wind turbines.
Dusty Johnson, a Mitchell resident and chairman of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, agreed with Kafka’s statement about the impact of the Big Stone II project’s failure on the South Dakota wind industry. Johnson said some projects already in the planning stages could suffer.
“The nice thing about Big Stone II is that we had the answer, in part, as to who would pay for the transmission lines,” said Johnson. At a $1 million per mile projected cost, he added, neither wind developers nor consumers are willing to step into the investment vacuum.
Forecasts vary on how long it will take to replace the Big Stone II plan with another plan for large-scale wind-energy transmission.
“I’ve heard people talk about a decade-long planning process,” Johnson said. “That includes a few years to figure out what you need, a few years to put together the economic case, and a couple of years to get regulatory approval.
“Getting permission to build these things is very difficult. Landowners are not always excited about having transmission lines in their backyards.”
Wind energy is viewed as a supplemental form of power, while coal-fired plants provide “baseline” power. The growing environmental unpopularity of coal-fired plants and fears surrounding nuclear plants make it logical to assume that plants powered by natural gas will take up the baseline generation slack in the immediate future, Johnson said.
“In the short term, because of cap and trade, and because it’s relatively easy to get them built, I think that natural gas power plants will pick up nearly all of the slack from Big Stone II.”
It’s a natural progression, however, that as the demand for natural gas rises and supplies remain the same, electricity costs will also increase.
“And that,” Johnson said, “concerns me a lot.”