Harvesting the wind could provide economic opportunities

Jamison Lamp

Jamison Lamp

Harnessing South Dakota’s abundant wind is the goal of Michigan based ITC Holdings Corp.’s plans for the “Green Power Express,” high voltage transmission lines that would have the potential to move wind power eastward.

Transmission lines would run 3,000 miles through seven states and cost between $10 and $20 million dollars.

“This is continuing evidence of wind power growth,” Dusty Johnson, chairman of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission said. “This is a tremendous investment in wind.”

Troubles with wind come from the inconsistencies in energy. The lines that are constructed now are able to transport consistent energy because of the four generators that divide the country into a grid system. The generators run in synch to ensure that power voltage is the same throughout the country.

Some ways that wind energy could become more usable is through better conductors, more lines in the system and possibly switching forms of power from AC to DC.

The project is in its very early stages and could take several years to go through all stages of permitting and technological advancements.

“From my understanding, they have not entered permitting stages yet,” Michael Ropp, associate professor in electrical engineering, said. “The technology is not in place yet.”

The ITC application for rate and incentives has been filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Property rights could be more of an obstacle than the interstate transmission line issues, Johnson said.

“We build (transmission lines) where the power is,” Johnson said. “There are thousands of lines along the river.”

The lines would be similar to those constructed for waterpower already in the state. The difference is in the voltage.

“Most lines are 345 kilovolts from line to ground, where wind lines will be 765 kilovolts,” Ropp said.

As for South Dakota, Ropp said that using wind energy here is not the most economical because of the already low electricity rates.

“It is really hard to use (wind energy) in South Dakota,” Ropp said. “The entire electrical load is very small.”

He said the most economical use for wind energy is transporting it to places with high demand like Chicago, St. Paul or Minneapolis.

The building of the lines and the revenue brought in through taxes are sure to have an economic impact on the state.

“The proposed project is a great economic development opportunity for South Dakota,” Gov. Mike Rounds said in an ITC Holdings Corp. press release. “My staff has been discussing transmission with ITC for some time, and we are encouraged by the proposed Green Power Express.”

Johnson said it is his job as part of the Public Utilities Commission to analyze the environmental and economic impact on South Dakota.

“South Dakota is unquestionably energy central for our country.” Johnson said.

It is unclear how stimulus dollars could affect this plan.