SD's energy boom: Is it too much too soon?

> MITCHELL, S.D. (The Associated Press) - Jul 4 - By AUSTIN KAUS
> As South Dakota continues an energy boom that began a decade ago,
> Don Carr watches from afar and says this state's residents may be
> getting in too deep too fast.
> Since the ethanol boom began a decade ago, South Dakota has
> become home to 16 ethanol plants.
> The state was once home to only a handful of individual wind
> turbines, but since the construction of the state's first large wind
> farm in 2003, four large wind farms have been constructed with at
> least another three under way or scheduled for construction. In the
> past 18 months, the amount of wind power in South Dakota has increased
> by 700 percent, producing approximately 285 megawatts of wind
> production capacity.
> TransCanada, a Canadian oil company, is at present constructing
> its Keystone pipeline through the eastern portion of the state on its
> way to refineries in Oklahoma and Illinois.
> Another TransCanada line, the Keystone XL, is proposed to be
> buried in central and western South Dakota.
> The proposed Hyperion project may eventually see a huge oil
> refinery constructed in the extreme southeast corner of South Dakota,
> near Elk Point.
> Energy proponents proudly note the quick development the state
> has seen, landowners are collecting payments from use of their
> property, and public entities such as school districts will get some
> of the collected tax revenue.
> But some people have concerns about the state's rapid progress of
> energy development.
> "Industry wants things to happen fast (and) a lot of times,
> environmental concerns and safeguards are an afterthought," said Carr,
> press secretary for agriculture and public lands for an organization
> called the Environmental Working Group. Carr also is a former
> communications director for the South Dakota Democratic National
> Committee. "We are constantly fighting the idea that environmental
> safeguards come second."
> The debate about South Dakota's energy boom has caused something
> of a split. Both sides of the issue, and the political spectrum,
> wonder about the speed with which the state should embrace new energy
> industries.
> Paul Blackburn, staff attorney for Plains Justice in Vermillion,
> a public interest law center that focuses on environmental issues,
> said he believes South Dakota's renewable energy advancements still
> lag behind neighboring states like Iowa and Minnesota.
> "Relative to other states in the region, South Dakota has very
> little installed wind capacity," Blackburn said. "South Dakota is
> lagging way behind some other states in terms of its development."
> Part of that relates to the national economy, he said, but the
> oft-discussed lack of transmission capacity also plays a role.
> "I think that South Dakota should look into allowing more South
> Dakotans to sell their product via the wires that currently exist to
> customers in other states rather than having those wires be
> continually maintained for an exclusive use of fossil fuel interests,"
> he said.
> Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., also would like to see South Dakota
> progress faster.
> "I would argue that we haven't moved fast enough," said Thune,
> who has long been a key figure behind energy development in the state.
> "There is so
> much pent-up opportunity in South Dakota for wind."
> While alternative energy sources like wind may be embraced by
> many as the future of energy production, opinions on the pace and
> methods of such advancement differ throughout the state.
> The importance of being farsighted
> South Dakota Public Utilities Commissioner Dusty Johnson said the
> general consensus is that South Dakota should move faster to bring
> certain industries - wind farms, for instance - to the state.
> The amount of channeled wind power in the state has increased 700
> percent in the last 18 months, Johnson said, and work is continuing to
> lay groundwork for new wind farm projects.
> As the process of constructing new wind farms in the state
> continues, Johnson said he hasn't fielded many complaints from
> residents concerned about the rate of progress.
> "We haven't heard a lot from people who think we're moving too
> quickly," Johnson said. "By and large, we're hearing from people who
> would like to see the state move faster."
> Johnson said the state was farsighted in preparing for companies
> interested in erecting wind farms in the area. Legally, wind rights
> can't be severed from property rights, nor do property owners legally
> sign an easement for more than 50 years.
> Easement options also expire after five years, which prevents
> landowners from "signing up with the wrong developer and getting
> locked up for (numerous) years," Johnson said.
> Members of the Legislature may soon hear from those who feel that
> such options actually give the landowner too much power over energy
> companies.
> Johnson said developers have recently started to voice concerns
> about the five-year option expiration, and he expects to see the issue
> come up during the next legislative session.
> "Some developers think that five-year window is too short because
> it takes so long to build this many massive, multimillion dollar
> facilities,"
> Johnson said. "(There) will absolutely be legislation addressing
> that."
> 'Saudi Arabia of wind'
> While Blackburn believes that South Dakota has a good amount of
> untapped renewable energy potential, he is concerned that residents
> aren't getting their due.
> "There's been a long history in South Dakota of the wealth of the
> state being pulled outside the state by people or organizations that
> live outside South Dakota," Blackburn said. "It is quite possible for
> the wealth that's generated by wind and renewable energy development
> to end up outside the state."
> Thune would like to see wind energy start to emulate the ethanol
> industry by having more local ownership.
> The passage of a renewable energy standard by Congress and an
> improved economy could seriously boost the chances of such an
> increase.
> "I'm very optimistic. Economics continue to improve as technology
> gets better," Thune said. "Those things are only creating forward
> momentum for wind energy in South Dakota."
> Thune acknowledged that transmission issues continue to be the
> biggest hindrance to the growth of wind energy in South Dakota, but
> he's hopeful the future will hold the solution to the transmission
> capacity problem and make South Dakota "the Saudi Arabia of wind."
> Blackburn believes that some transmission concerns could be
> solved using existing wires. He'd like to see independent studies
> conducted on the state's current transmission structure. It's also
> important to Blackburn that South Dakotans learn more about wind and
> other renewable energies and contact state regulators to ask for more
> efficient means of delivery.
> "They need to ... encourage the regulators to promote these
> solutions," Blackburn said. "I think that sometimes the state
> regulators focus so much on rate that they don't think about the
> actual cost of power to the customers."
> Ethanol debate
> Since the boom of ethanol production began in South Dakota, 16
> plants have been constructed, including Poet Biorefining near Loomis,
> which, according to Johnson, "is doing some of the best research in
> the world on cellulosic ethanol."
> But Jim Margadant, regional conservation organizer for the South
> Dakota Chapter of the Sierra Club in Rapid City, is hoping South
> Dakota will place a stronger focus on cleaner energy sources, such as
> wind, instead of fuels that leave a larger carbon footprint.
> Margadant expects water to become "more and more precious" as
> time goes on. Since biofuel manufacturers are large consumers of
> water, ethanol production may prove to be an increasingly inefficient
> source of energy, he said.
> "Our state is kind of clinging to assisting and developing an
> energy policy that is pretty carbon dependent and it leaves a pretty
> dirty footprint," Margadant said. "That is not the way of the future."
> Carr acknowledges that ethanol has been good for South Dakota's
> economy, but he's still waiting for proof that the federally
> subsidized industry is environmentally friendly. That, Thune said, is
> "bogus science."
> "There is no question that ethanol is better environmentally than
> traditional fuels," Thune said. "You cannot tell me that something
> that comes from a product like corn isn't better than something that
> comes from petroleum for the environment."
> As for the question of subsidies, Thune said the amount saved by
> not having to pay as many countercyclical and loan deficiency payments
> to farmers because of increased corn prices is much more than the tax
> incentives offered.
> More wind farms can mean less reliance on other, more carbon-
> heavy, methods of energy production, Carr said.
> Carr is concerned that increasing acres of fuel crops such as
> corn reduces the number of conservation acres, like those in the
> Conservation Reserve Program.
> That, he said, also could have detrimental effects on the
> environment.
> "The worry is ... that when land is taken out of CRP or these
> other conservation programs and plowed under and used to plant fuel
> crops, those lands are not replaced," Carr said. "When you plow them
> under, you release carbon in the atmosphere and you also take away
> land that cannot sequester carbon."
> Thune, a longtime advocate of increasing CRP acres in South
> Dakota, said he's concerned about the decreased number of CRP acres
> but doesn't believe ethanol is a major factor. The increased price of
> corn simply makes it more logical for farmers to plant corn instead of
> enroll in the program, he said.
> "I don't think you can say that because of ethanol, everybody's
> pulling their land out of CRP," Thune said.