Wind generation could supplement hydropower 4-10-07

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Falling water levels on the Missouri River are resulting in higher energy costs for South Dakotans, but untapped wind power could provide the perfect supplement to drought affected hydropower plants, Sen. John Thune said Tuesday.

The Western Area Power Administration provides power to a number of electric cooperatives, Ellsworth Air Force Base, state government and 33 towns and cities in South Dakota. The Lakewood, Colo.based arm of the Department of Energy predicts a firm power rate adjustment of about 25 percent for 2008.

WAPA uses Missouri River dams to fill long term hydropower contracts, but it buys power off the open market when adequate hydropower isn't available.

Thune said wind could help provide extra electricity through existing transmission lines when water levels are lacking.

``With the pool levels being what they are in the dams and the lack of an ability on the part of the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) to generate the amount of hydropower that they traditionally have, wind might be able to come in and complement that,'' the senator said.

The 2005 Energy Bill directed WAPA and the corps to study integrating hydropower and wind power along the Missouri River and on tribal lands. Thune said the report was supposed to be released in 2006 but hasn't come out yet.

In 2005, WAPA released a study showing that the Dakotas could export more electricity within the current system. The study looked at seven transmission sites, including four in South Dakota and three in North Dakota.

Currently, the largest wind farm in the state, near Highmore, is a 27turbine operation that generates 40 megawatts of power. A 50megawatt wind farm is planned in Brookings County, and a 90megawatt facility is in the works for northcentral South Dakota.

``There's no reason why the Dakotas can't be generating more wind power given the capability we have to do that,'' Thune said.

Wind power needs significant incentives for companies to invest in the technology, Thune said.

The current 11/2centsperkilowatt wind production tax credit likely needs to be higher to entice companies to build large scale wind farms and transmission lines, he said. At the least, the tax credit needs to be more consistent, as it has expired three times during the past six years, Thune said.

``What the investors are saying is we need certainty,'' he said. ``It's got to be in place for an extended period of time so that people making investment decisions know it's going to be there. And Congress continues to mess with this thing.''