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Clean Across the Continent: Promoting High Wind Goals in the Heartland


The Center has worked virtually this fall with dozens of professionals earning certificates in Financing and Deploying Clean Energy, and will keep at it through the academic year. Learners study the history, physics, innovation pathways and technological possibility sparking the carbon-free economy. One learning strategy involves crafting policy memos and op/ed pieces on issues where public support can unleash capital. Here, Tyler Yeargain (associate director of the Yale Center on Environmental Law and Policy when not absorbing the ins and outs of clean energy) argues that South Dakotans should seek to draw half their energy from wind inside of a decade. Yeargain's case includes government support- and his tactics illustrate the command of policy levers, technological gateways, physical potential and carbon calculus that we cultivate in all our programs. (He is not a South Dakotan, though he acts as one in this academic exercise.) CBEY takes no partisan position on this or any other proposal. 

In “Hail, South Dakota!,” composer DeeCort Hammitt wrote that South Dakota’s “health, wealth, and beauty” is what “makes her grand.” Though Ms. Hammitt was talking about South Dakota’s “mines with gold so rare,” she could’ve meant another of South Dakota’s natural sources of wealth: its wind.

South Dakota has some of the most powerful wind in the country, per federal statistics —a frequently inconvenient fact that you may have noticed when it turns a good hair day into a bad one and when it spreads raked leaves all over the yard. But for all of that wind, South Dakota only produces 30% of its energy from wind power. It’s time for that to change. Increasing the state’s wind energy production wouldn’t preserve your hairstyle or keep your raked leaves in one place—only hair gel and quick raking can change that—but it would lower energy prices and create jobs.

We should produce 50% of our energy from wind by 2030.

Why should we do that? The answer is simple: it would guarantee that when you turn on your lights, you’re getting cheap energy produced right here in South Dakota that creates good jobs for South Dakotans that can never be outsourced.

First, this would lower energy prices—a lot. It’s true that energy prices in South Dakota are pretty cheap right now, according to data from the federal Energy Information Administration. But when you get your energy bill in the winter, when you put on your heater to make a -20° day bearable, it’s probably pretty hard to believe that you’re looking at a cheap bill. About a third of South Dakotans use electricity to heat their homes. If we increase wind energy production, it’ll lower energy bills and make it cheaper to be comfortable during the winter.

Second, getting more power from wind means that we won’t be using energy produced in other states. Right now, South Dakota imports more energy than it exports—so when you turn on your lights, you might be using energy made in Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, or beyond. South Dakotans shouldn’t be beholden to other states for our basic needs. For years, our national politicians have talked about the need for “energy independence,” which has fueled natural gas production in South Dakota and created thousands of good-paying jobs. But we shouldn’t neglect our energy independence at the local level. You should have the confidence that, when you turn on your lights, the power you’re paying for is supporting a South Dakota company—not an out-of-stater.

Third, more wind energy means more jobs for South Dakotans. As we increase our wind energy, the state's people can sell energy to other states—not buy energy from them!—and create jobs as we do so. If the state helps make it easier for South Dakotan tribes to produce wind energy, these jobs can be located on tribal lands—guaranteeing that the benefits of wind energy production are felt by all South Dakotans.

But South Dakotans deserve the full truth—you’ll only enjoy these benefits if our state leaders do this the right way. South Dakota has never required energy companies to produce any amount of renewable energy in the past. It’s only set a “goal” of 10% by 2015.5 If the state sets another weak “goal,” those benefits won’t happen.

Making it a requirement won’t hurt energy companies or raise your taxes, either. To meet this requirement, energy companies will have to build out wind farms—and under current state law, they’d pass those costs onto you. But it doesn’t need to be that way. The state should step in and give residents credits on their energy bills to keep energy bills steady until the utilities have fully paid for their wind farms. The economic growth caused by the jobs that will be created will help pay for these subsidies, too—so no need for tax increases.

This requirement also needs to include subsidies for tribal governments, which can’t get the sort of federal subsidies that energy companies can. (See relevant state The state can help make up for the federal government’s failure by giving tribes those subsidies—to make sure that all of the benefits of wind energy go to all South Dakotans.

This is a big idea. But we shouldn’t shy away from big ideas. That’s not the South Dakotan way. If we make more wind energy, and if we do it the right way, we can create lower energy bills, never import energy again, and create good jobs right here.

Call your state legislator at 605-773-3251 and tell them to support 50% wind energy by 2030.