South Dakota Poised to Triple Wind Energy Capacity

South Dakota Poised to Triple Wind Energy Capacity

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission approved construction of a 72-turbine wind farm near the Minnesota border in July, one of eight new wind farms being developed by Xcel Energy. The eight new wind farms in South Dakota would add 1,850 megawatts of wind energy. The company currently owns five wind farms producing about 850 megawatts in the Upper Midwest.

The 72-turbine farm, producing up to 300 megawatts of energy, is expected to encompass about 44,500 acres. Each turbine has a relatively small footprint (about 3 acres) but additional disturbances (e.g. turbine noise and movement, road construction) contribute to overall impacts. Wind energy is one of the fastest growing renewable energy sectors, but many new wind facilities are placed in prime wildlife habitat. Development of wind energy adds to pressures on grassland bird species, many of which are experiencing significant declines.

Wildlife are directly affected by wind facilities via collision mortality and indirectly affected through avoidance of turbines and related infrastructure (i.e. displacement). Measures of direct impacts are commonly conducted although displacement effects are much more difficult to measure and may occur immediately after construction or be delayed (Shaffer, J. A. and D. A. Buhl, 2016. Effects of wind-energy facilities on breeding grassland bird distributions. Conservation Biology 30(1):59-71.) While these studies are occurring and continue to build our knowledge of wildlife impacts of wind energy development, the rapid expansion of wind energy facilities has created a growing concern about landscape scale impacts to wildlife.

South Dakota joins North Dakota and Minnesota in experiencing a boom in wind energy development to provide electricity to the upper Midwest. The boom was in part triggered by completion of a new 800-mile transmission line developed by 11 transmission-owning utilities under the project name CapX2020. Previous news articles have indicated completion of the transmission line prompted 3,500 megawatts of energy development proposals in these states. Alternative energy development has accelerated throughout the Midwest with many states having growing portfolios of wind and solar energy.

More research is needed to develop mitigation approaches for existing facilities and to aid in assessing risk at proposed facilities. The latter is particularly important in landscapes where facilities are planned where little is known about migration, foraging, and fatalities associated with wind-energy facilities

Some of these information needs are beyond the scope of any individual developer (e.g., population status of affected species). Therefore, a collaborative effort by industry and agencies to fund the necessary research to address these overarching questions should be initiated.

November 16, 2018