News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Sunday, December 7, 2008

South Dakota blows off the wind

Sam Hurst makes some very shrewd points about the political climate of South Dakota. His comments regarding the state's development of energy are pertinent and prophetic:


South Dakota is perfectly positioned to lead the nation to energy independence, but will, no doubt, squander the potential and watch other states who are willing to tax for investment race past, while the legislature squabbles about taxes and...abortion.


The tough fact is that South Dakota is selling off its resources for the development of renewable energy and allowing foreign companies to reap benefits that could boost the economy of the state and give its people opportunities to create and determine their own destinies.


The state has, in fact, realized some benefits from the production of ethanol. However, ethanol is a transitional fuel. As the nation moves away from petro-power and into clean energy power, ethanol will be displaced as a major ingredient of the nation's fuel. Corn producers have realized some significant profits for the first time in decades while corn is the major commodity from which ethanol is made. But the shift from food-destined crops to fuel ingredients has caused a rise in food costs which, on top of exorbitant fuel costs, has hit the consumer hard.


For the purposes of making fuel, switch grass and other cheaper biomass crops are needed as a raw product. As the bankruptcy of Versa Sun and the shaky financial condition of other ethanol producers indicates, a cheaper commodity as the raw product is required for ethanol to be competitive. Crop producers have some tough decisions to make as to what they will grow on their farms, but for some time now it has been clear that the days of farm programs for food producers are coming to an end.


Farm subsidies have, in fact, subsidized cheap food for the consumer. Those days are probably over. Farm subsidies did slow down the integration of family farms into the corporate economic scheme, but the fact is that farming no longer operates on a free market. Through contracts and closed markets, food production has been fully absorbed into massive systems run and controlled by corporate headquarters.


Farm subsidies have also contributed to an assault on the wetlands again, as some farmers in the pothole regions have plowed them up to grow crops that are currently profitable. Agriculture is again experiencing conflicts between profit and conservation. The development of clean energy may make those additional croplands superfluous.


Farmers have missed opportunities to take advantage of opportunities to add the production of clean energy to their production systems. A few years ago, Deere and Co. announced that its financial division would make loans to farmers who wanted to construct wind generators for electricity on their farms. Deere's concept was that a farmer could have one or two generators on a farm joined to a network with neighboring farmers to supply electricity to a grid. There is opoposition in the corporate world to generators on individual farms. When a firm with plans for such a network in Dickey County, North Dakota, found it would have to observe zoning rules so that their wind generators would not interfere with other aspects of agriculture, they canceled their plan for such a network.


In South Dakota, as Sam Hurst suggests , non-corporate wind turbines were not even a consideration. While an officer of a small corporation that owns some land in the prime wind areas, I found that South Dakota indeed squanders ts opportunities to participate, let alone assume leadership, in the production of clean energy. When a few of us raised the possibility of organizing a cooperative wind turbine system, the electric cooperatives and the state immediately said the absence of transmission lines excluded that possibility. The site I was involved with was a little over a mile away from an electrical substation which could have served as a distribution connection. Farmers were not much interested, either. The prevailing mindset could not consider such a possibility. While we were trying to drum up interest, big foreign corporations came in and arranged to obtain electrical distribution facilities that state officials and electrical distribution organizations said prohibited participation in the production of electricity.


So, the major wind farms in South Dakota are being operated by for foreign corporations, not South Dakota ;businesses and individual.


Babcock and Brown, an Australian corporation is erecting a 34-turbine unit on 3,000 acres near Wessington Springs.


Acciona Wind Power in Madrid, Spain, whollly owns Tatanka Wind Power on the North and South Dakota Border. It operates 59 turbines in McPherson County, South Dakota, and 61 turbines in Dickey County, North Dakota.


Iberdola, a corporation headquartered in Bilbao, Spain, is developing 77 acres in Brookings and Deuel Counties where it will produce 306 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 148,000 homes. It has not as yet decided between putting up 204 1.5 megawatt turbines or 123 2.5 megawatt turbines.


South Dakota is rated as fourth in the nation for wind resources. It ranks 18th in the development of those resources.


South Dakota again wants to stay in previous centuries while global corporations take over its resources. It is getting late to participate in the development of 21st century energy.











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