At ground-breaking, South Dakota leaders ask for energy growth

Source: By Dana Ferguson, Argus Leader • Posted: Thursday, September 17, 2015

State officials to attend ceremony for 70-mile transmission line project

As a group of state officials broke ground Monday on the construction of a 70-mile, $225 million energy transmission line between Big Stone City and Brookings, they pointed out a need for additional growth in the state’s industry in the future.

Standing in front of a large metal framework for what will become the base of a transmission line structure near Clear Lake, 37 miles north of Brookings, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard and others applauded the project. They called it a successful example of teamwork between two companies: Xcel Energy and Otter Tail Power Co.

Daugaard also said it could be the first of many energy projects built to utilize the state’s wind power. He called on legislators, landowners and energy companies to clear the way for expansion in the field.

“By the time this is done I expect major things to be happening in wind in South Dakota,” Daugaard said, referring to the project.

The Big Stone South – Brookings County 345-kilovolt transmission line is projected to channel wind energy to South Dakotans beginning in 2017. The project is also part of larger effort aimed at creating an 800-mile transmission line spanning across parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. All told, the combined project is expected to cost more than $2 billion.

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But at least initially, the energy will remain in South Dakota as there are no transmission lines built to carry it across state lines. While the tone of the event Monday was largely congratulatory, many pointed to the need for growth.

U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-South Dakota, said efforts to expand the line and to connect it to others would likely come in time.

“Building it out and connecting it all, that’ll be the ultimate challenge,” Thune told reporters after the event. “It’s partly a function of time. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Thune said the state had worked to provide additional incentives for companies that utilized wind energy and that he and Noem, along with U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, aimed to create additional federal incentives. But he said one project in the state faced a roadblock in working across land by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Noem said additional investments and planning would be required to expand the line.

“I think we need to continuously make investments in this,” Noem said. “And these companies need to look long-term and think about projects years before the dirt starts getting turned over.”

During his speech, Thune encouraged those in attendance to harness the state’s wind power. He said additional transmission lines could solve energy gaps in other states and could drive jobs back to the state.

“South Dakota needs to be at the crossroads of the energy renaissance in this country,” Thune said.

South Dakota Public Utilities Commission Chairman Chris Nelson and representatives from Xcel Energy and Otter Tail Power Co. were also in attendance at the event Monday.

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Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the structure officials spoke in front of, which was a foundation for a transmission line structure.