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Short-Term Pause, Long-Term Potential

March 12, 2009, 10:07 PM by Erich Schaffhauser

Short-Term Pause, Long-Term Potential
Wind in KELOLAND rarely seems to slow, but we can't say the same for wind energy development.

As the struggling economy hits one sector after another, developers putting up windmills are also feeling its ill effects.

There's rarely a piece of grass standing still in Hyde County, rarely a day the wind doesn't make itself known.

"We've got plenty of wind," Jason Runestad said.

With windmills now added to the landscape, Highmore rancher Jason Runestad says that wind is finally doing some good.

"They don't bother anything and it's an extra source of income," Runestad said.

Eight wind turbines sit on the Runestad property. The developer who put them up pays the Runestads every year to have the turbines in their pasture.  While Runestad admits looking at sky scrapers on the prairie took a little getting used to, he says he's more than used to them by now.

"Well, I certainly hope that they decide to put more in the area. It's had nothing but a positive impact on our place," Runestad said.

But with the economy hitting the wind energy industry, that hope is on hold for some in the state.

"In South Dakota, this is what we call the year of the pause," Steve Wegman said.

Wegman is executive director for the South Dakota Wind Energy Association. He says struggling financial markets have made it hard for developers to get the money to put up the multi-million dollar wind farms.

But even if the money isn't there, the potential for wind energy in South Dakota remains strong. Wegman says much of the state has what’s considered good, excellent or outstanding wind energy potential.

"Currently, we have come a long ways. We started out back in 2002 with 40 megawatts of wind. We are now at about 250 megawatts of wind," Wegman said.

While construction of wind farms has slowed, Wegman expects that to turn around in 2010. He says the approximately 250 megawatts of electricity produced from wind in South Dakota supplies between eight and nine percent of the state's energy and that's expected to grow.

"We could easily see between 1,000 to 2,000 megawatts in the next four to five years," Wegman said.

That brings electricity to a lot of homes. He says one megawatt supplies between 300 and 400 homes; 40 megawatts covers a city about the size of Pierre.

Wegman says there are other reasons for people in South Dakota to look forward to the ‘year of the pause’ ending and seeing more windmills come to the state.

"For every 50 megawatts of wind, you have to have three full-time employees that live there," Wegman said.

That doesn't include people coming in for sideline jobs such as environmental impact studies or other testing. It also doesn't take into account what's being done to preserve life on the prairie.

"It gives land owners, the rural people of South Dakota, a chance to harvest another crop," Wegman said.

Now is the time, Wegman says, to capture the wind. And with that wind rarely stopping on his ridge near Highmore and the grass in his pasture seldom standing still, at least one rancher echoes the same.

"It's finally doing some good on the place. If we can find out how to make a lot of money off rocks, we'll be doing good," Runestad said.

Wegman says this is a good time to sit back and research wind energy potential in your area to see if you can jump on board.

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