TYNDALL - Sen. John Thune believes the United States is becoming more energy independent.

“Just a few years ago, 60 percent of the energy we used in this country was imported,” said Thune, a South Dakota Republican. “We were bringing it in from other parts of the world, and that’s now down to 40 percent.”

During a Monday meeting at the Tyndall Rotary Club at The Corral in Tyndall, Thune said one of the most important issues in Congress this year will be a debate about energy and its economic impacts.

He also talked about small-town business, the nation’s deficit, rural health care, military benefits, the farm bill and other topics.

But at least three times, Thune referenced energy production at the meeting. Two questions were related to wind farms. B&H Wind LLC has secured building and conditional-use permits in Bon Homme County and other area counties to construct a wind farm.

B&H Wind held public meetings starting in 2009 in towns including Avon, Tripp, Tyndall, Wagner and Springfield.

“I’m a big advocate of all forms of energy,” Thune said when asked if he supports building wind generators. “All of us know we have plenty of wind in South Dakota.”

Thune praised wind-generated power in the state as an alternative form of energy. He said the two main issues with wind power are that wind is intermittent and there’s no way to store the energy created by it.

“If you look at all the data across the country, we have the most consistent wind of anywhere, us and North Dakota,” Thune said. “According to people who have wind towers in South Dakota, the wind blows about 40 percent of the time. That means 60 percent of the time it’s not. You have to have something to be there when the wind isn’t blowing.”

Thune said new regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will raise the cost of electricity in this area of the country.

In the push to transition to renewable energy sources, coal has come under the crosshairs of the Obama administration, Thune said. In September, the EPA released regulations for carbon emissions from new coal-fired and gas-fired power plants, under the authority of the Clean Air Act.

Those regulations will drive up electricity costs in South Dakota, Thune said, because “50 percent of energy in South Dakota comes from coal-fired power plants.”

“You talk about putting a big wet blanket on the economy in the foreseeable future, just drive up the cost of fuel and electricity to the point where people can’t hire,” Thune said. “That’s a huge cost of doing business in today.”