A recent study by the USDA Economic Research Service found that in South Dakota, every two megawatts of increased wind energy production resulted in an increase in personal income of $22,000 and the creation of one full-time job. South Dakota ranks fifth in the nation in terms of potential wind capacity, so it looks as if there is considerable room to expand.
Great news for renewable energy in this state. If that’s the case, though, why haven’t we done so?
Indeed, South Dakota was recently ranked 46th in the nation in energy efficiency by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) by any number of indicators, including state renewable energy initiatives, utility public benefits programs, and building energy codes.
Responding to the study, Dusty Johnson, Governor Daugaard’s chief of staff, said “he supports energy efficiency programs so long as ‘South Dakota families and businesses’ have the choice of whether to participate in them,” pointing to the state’s nonbinding renewable energy portfolio.
Isn’t that the point of environmental regulation though – to be binding on individuals and businesses, in order that economic self-interest doesn’t trump ecological health? So long as protecting the environment for the long term is (apparently) more expensive than protecting profits for the short term, then companies are likely to simply glance through nonbinding regulations, pay them lip service in public (green is trendy right now), and promptly ignore them in practice.
This hardly incentivizes large-scale wind energy production. Ron Rebenitch, executive director of the South Dakota Wind Energy Association, points to smaller-scale community initiatives as a potential “silver lining.” But South Dakota lacks a net metering policy that would allow independent energy producers to receive financial credit for feeding excess electricity generated back into the grid, making such exciting community initiatives less enticing to potential participants. (See “Power to the People!” in the South Dakota Sierra Club’s Summer 2012 Newsletter, p. 4: http://southdakota.sierraclub.org/)
But according to South Dakota PUC Chairman Chris Nelson, the ACEEE “may not have the same goals (as we do) in South Dakota.” What kinds of goals? It would seem primarily promoting as usual: for instance, granting permits to environmentally disastrous oil refineries like Hyperion without even requiring an environmental impact statement (although that particular danger may soon be receding), or seeking continued mandates for ethanol, a fuel technology that may not be as sustainable as we think.
As we look forward to the November elections and the 2013 legislative session, it is important to remember to keep the pressure on our elected officials, and to elect those who are committed to making South Dakota not 46th but 1st in the nation for energy efficiency and renewable energy.
–Tom Emanuel is the executive director of the South Dakota Peace & Justice Center