South Dakota grew its wind energy capacity at a rate more than twice as high as any other state in 2019 and could double that capacity in the next few years, according to a recently released report.
The state had 50 percent more wind energy resources in 2019 than in 2018, the American Wind Energy Association’s Wind Powers America 2019 annual report indicated, and South Dakota now generates 23.9 percent of its electricity from wind, making it one of six states in which that number exceeded 20 percent.
"South Dakota’s already fairly well along the way in terms of relatively carbon-free electricity generation," John Hensley, AWEA’s Vice President of Research and Analytics, told The Daily Republic on Tuesday. "… With the growth that we see in wind power in the state, those gains are only going to continue to accrue to the state.”
While South Dakota's store of wind energy is increasing more rapidly than elsewhere in the country, with Iowa's 21 percent year-over-year increase the second highest of any state, 17 states had higher wind capacities in 2019, including all bordering states except Montana. Hensley said while South Dakota ultimately has the potential to produce up to 400 gigawatts of wind energy — four times what is now being produced nationwide — wind projects came later to the state than others in part because it's farther from major metropolitan areas that use more electricity.
What's led to wind energy's accelerated growth in South Dakota in recent years, Hensley said, are developments in energy transmission, which have made it easier to transport wind energy from where it's produced to where it can be used.
"We’ve seen, really, the tremendous resource that South Dakota has available become open to development because there are now mechanisms to actually get that power from South Dakota to areas where it’s in demand, not to mention actually power the economy there in South Dakota, itself,” Hensley said.
According to the AWEA report, a total of $3 billion was invested in wind-related projects in South Dakota in 2019, and three new wind projects were completed, adding 506 megawatts of wind power capacity. Texas, Iowa and Illinois added more capacity than South Dakota in the same year.
Between 2,001 and 3,000 wind-related jobs were held in South Dakota in 2019, and the state is home to two of the country’s 19 major wind-related manufacturing facilities: Molded Fiber Glass in Aberdeen and Marmen Energy in Brandon. AWEA data indicated South Dakota received $9 million in tax payments and $10 million in annual land lease payments last year.
“We’ve found that, in many cases, these wind farms are real lifelines for farmers and ranchers, especially, as of late," Hensley said, noting the low crop yields and commodity prices in 2019 that continue to affect many farmers. "... Wind essentially produces kind of a drought-free cash crop for these guys, and so we’ve found a ton of receptivity to that point.”
Currently, all 1,525 megawatts of South Dakota's wind power capacity are generated east of the Missouri River. Hensley said based on transmission advances and upcoming projects in the state, South Dakota can expect to gain an additional 1,500 to 1,600 megawatts of wind capacity in the next one to three years, with projects potentially expanding west river.
South Dakota produced enough wind energy in 2019 to power 276,000 U.S. homes, and Hensley said those 1,525 megawatts equated to a reduction of 800,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, or the equivalent of emissions produced by about 170,000 cars in a year.
"As a result of that fossil generation operating less hours and producing less electricity, you have lower carbon dioxide, sulfur oxides and nitrous oxides that are being emanated, and as a result, you end up with cleaner air quality,” Hensley said.
Wind is now the largest source of renewable energy in the U.S., according to the report, and the wind industry's 100 gigawatts of installed capacity at the end of 2019 was enough to power 32 million homes. Nationally, 7.2 percent of electricity on average is generated from wind. While a significantly higher percentage of South Dakota's electricity is wind-generated, wind is still the state's second-largest source of electricity production, preceded by hydropower.
“We talk about Kansas and Iowa, where wind had moved into the No. 1 position in terms of the top generator of electricity in those states," Hensley said. "South Dakota is not quite there yet but has kind of been on the precipice of meeting that milestone for a couple of years."