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Wind Power Takes Front and Center Stage at State Fair

September 2, 2009

HURON, S.D. - The state Public Utilities Commission says wind energy production in South Dakota could easily double next year, with a billion dollar investment possible over the next two and a half years. State fairgoers will have a unique opportunity to hear more about the state's potential for wind energy production when top experts come together on a wind panel at the fair in Huron this Saturday.

Panel member Steve Wegman with the South Dakota Wind Energy Association says people often assume that wind power is a sleepy little business in South Dakota, but that in reality more than 550 million dollars has already been invested. He says bigger investments will be realized when electrical transmission issues are resolved.

"That's because, if we don't have transmission for the power, we can only build so many wind farms in South Dakota, and then we're done. We need good government policies to build transmission means to move power out to markets. I always remind people that wind in South Dakota is like having a million bushels of corn in your backyard, and all you have is a five-gallon bucket to move it to Chicago. It isn't going to work."

According to Wegman, more than 1,000 people are currently employed in the wind power industry in South Dakota.

Panel organizer Mitch Fargen, with the South Dakota Farmers Union, says many areas of economic expansion are possible with wind power, and South Dakota residents should understand that future growth isn't about building wind projects, but rather new industries that will create jobs.

"That means work on the transmission lines, as well as building the turbines here, and the maintenance and repair of them. Then there'd be the county jobs and manager jobs connected to Watertown Tech and Mitchell Tech and all these other schools and learning centers around South Dakota, that we could have potential students going to for jobs in the future."

The wind panel begins at 11 a.m. Saturday on the Freedom Stage at the State Fair in Huron and is being held as part of South Dakota Farmers Union Day at the fair.

Other panelists will include Curt Eliason, manager of Energy Maintenance Services; Mike Twedt with South Dakota State University; Scott Parsley, assistant manager of East River Coop; Jay Protho, business developer manager for BP Alternative Energy; and Steve Scott, who is the CEO of Outland Renewable Energy.

David Law, Public News Service - SD