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South Dakota legislators are butting heads with Republican Governor Kristi Noem over renewable energy, but it's not the same old red-blue thing.

Clean Power

South Dakota Could Be The Next Solar Power Powerhouse

South Dakota legislators are butting heads with Republican Governor Kristi Noem over renewable energy, but it’s not the same old red-blue thing.

Regardless of President* Trump’s affection for fossil fuels, the fact is that state-level action is the key to accelerating clean power in the US. A case in point is South Dakota, where a huge battle is brewing over the state’s renewable energy industry.

South Dakota also illustrates how the red-blue political divide is giving way — slowly — to market based policies. Everybody wants wind and solar now that costs have come down. States that fail to encourage the trend risk missing out on important economic development opportunities.

South Dakota Renewable Energy: Wind, Yay

South Dakota doesn’t tend to make a lot of headlines in the renewable energy department, though the state is a pretty decent performer in the wind industry.

The American Wind Energy Association put South Dakota at 19th in installed wind capacity among US states for 2017, with 16 functioning wind farms totaling 601 turbines and 1.019 megawatts in capacity. Another 408 megawatts was in the pipeline as of 2017.

A big factor in the growth of the state’s wind industry is the construction of transmission lines to North Dakota and Minnesota.

What’s really interesting about the state’s wind profile is that wind accounted for 30% of energy generated in-state as of 2018. That’s pretty impressive considering that only four states in the US achieved that level of productivity. The others were the more well-known wind states of Iowa, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

In one recent development, earlier this week the state’s Public Utilities Commission okayed a new 123-turbine wind farm and transmission line about five miles northeast of Linton. The 300-megawatt project comes under the umbrella of the company NextEra.

Solar, Nay

South Dakota’s solar industry, in contrast, is stuck in the doldrums. The Solar Energy Industries Association ranked it dead last in 2017. The percentage of electricity generated by solar in the state didn’t even register on the needle, and the five-year prospects for growth were zero, as in nada, zilch, zippo.

To be fair, much of South Dakota is not a prime area for solar development, but the entire southwestern corner of the state has decent solar resources.

Part of the problem is that solar lease options are not very attractive in the state. The Audubon Society, though, sees a glimmer of hope for the solar industry in South Dakota:

One-quarter of the state’s solar energy was installed in 2016 alone, suggesting that the installation rate is accelerating. That’s not entirely surprising as studies have shown that solar is contagious—people are more likely to install solar panels after they see their neighbors do the same.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back For Renewable Energy

With all this in mind, let’s take a look at the action in the South Dakota state legislature this week.

On the plus side, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem signed legislation to ramp up the state’s wind and solar industries.

The bill, House Bill 1031, replaces a multiplicity of overlapping rules and agreements for wind and solar leases with one standard. The new agreement would be issued by the Office of School and Public Lands, and it would also cover easements.

HB 1031 takes effect this summer so stay tuned for more on that.

On the minus side, legislation to define solar arrays passed the state legislature early this week, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Critics of the bill, Senate Bill 14, are concerned that it would put the final nail in the coffin of solar development in South Dakota by establishing yet another layer of regulation.

Those critics include South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who vetoed the solar bill with this observation…

The renewable energy industry, just as any other, should be subject to only as much regulation as is necessary to promote the public interest and preserve our environment while making South Dakota an attractive place to do business.

…and this one…

Senate Bill 14, as well as several other Commission-authored bills regulating the renewable energy industry, were introduced without meaningful consultation with industry or other opportunity for comment ahead of time.

Do tell! Then there’s this one:

As a state, we have been blessed with significant wind and solar resources. We should continue to benefit greatly from billions of dollars in completed and planned investments.

Yay. Now for the bad news: SB passed with a veto-proof majority, so it has a good chance of becoming law.


All of this is particularly interesting because Noem is a lifelong Republican on the conservative end of the scale. That’s not the typical profile of a renewable energy advocate, but there you have it.

Noem’s advocacy for renewable energy apparently does not transfer to other areas. The Governor is an avowed anti-abortionist and who has been chummy with the notoriously conservative Freedom Caucus as well as Trump daughter and advisor Ivanka.

Meanwhile, CleanTechnica is reaching out to SEIA for some insights into how the solar market in South Dakota will shake out, so stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Twitter.

*Developing story.

Photo: South Dakota wind turbines by Don Graham/

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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