Jerry Heckenliable's going to hate this program.

Heartland Consumers Power District is touting its Energy One incentive program to new businesses in Madison and its other customer communities. Basically, if a new company moves in and adds a megawatt or more to local electricity demand, Heartland will give them a three-year discount on their electric bill. Heartland gave Sioux Falls this deal on the new Sanford Events Center; now they'll extend it to other big operations...

...which means, Jerry, that while newcomers drive up demand and peak load charges, you'll be subsidizing their efforts, as will the existing businesses with whom the newcomers compete. It's the traditional problem retailers face in recruiting new customers: it's nice to give new shoppers rewards to get them to come in the store, but the retailer imperils its relationship with loyal customers who've kept them afloat for years and are stuck with the extra costs.

That must be why Heartland wanted Richard Benda to take Russ Olson's old job: he was really good at putting a smile on handouts to big new companies who end up costing the locals money.


The Energy Information Administration profiles energy production and consumption in each state. Some fast energy facts about South Dakota:

  • South Dakota ranks 39th for energy production. We make 0.3% of America's energy. Minnesota produces twice that share and ranks 34th. North Dakota is up to 13th with 2.0%. Wyoming is second, with all that coal and oil making up 13.3% of our energy production. Texas is first at 16.2%
  • South Dakota produces the largest amount of its energy in biofuels. We rank fifth in ethanol production. Our next biggest energy production sector is "other renewable energy," with our four big hydroelectric dams still producing more juice than our wind turbines.
  • South Dakotans burn up more energy than most Americans. We rank eighth in energy consumption per person at 464 million Btu. That's the same as each South Dakotan burning about 84 barrels of oil each year. Minnesotans use 25% less energy per person; North Dakotans use 65% more (all that Bakken oil doesn't bubble up out of the Williston tundra on its own).
  • Our electricity and natural gas prices are among the ten lowest in the nation, but because of our higher per-capita energy use, South Dakotans spend more on energy than most Americans. We spend $5,521 per person per year on energy, the ninth-highest per capita energy expenditure in the U.S. Minnesotans spend 18% less; North Dakotans spend 70% more.

Spring hasn't felt terribly sunny here in South Dakota, but it has for the solar power industry. The Solar Energy Industries Association notes with pride that every megawatt of new electricity generation capacity built in March comes from solar energy. They note that their industry "employs 119,000 workers throughout the country. That’s a 13.2 percent growth over 2011’s jobs numbers, making solar one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the nation."

But solar still has a long way to go to catch up with other sources of electricity in the United States:

Total Installed Operating Generating Capacity, U.S. Electricity, by source, FERC: Office of Energy Products, Energy Infrastructure Update for March 2013

FERC: Office of Energy Products, Energy Infrastructure Update for March 2013

Solar photovoltaic technology currently produces 0.44% of electricity in the United States. That makes solar #8 in meeting our electrical demand, behind coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydropower, wind, oil, and biomass, and just ahead of geothermal steam. That 0.44% lags significantly behind Germany's 6.2% (despite getting much less sun than the U.S.) and Spain's 10%. And it's small potatoes compared to the 29% the World Wildlife Fund and envisions as part of a perfectly feasible goal of nearly 100% renewable power by 2050.


Our April ice storm has Xcel Energy struggling to restore electricity to (as of 07:25 CST this morning) nearly 20,000 customers. The rural electric coops in southeast South Dakota are trying to get power back to another 2,700 customers.

Meanwhile, USDA Rural Development is spending $280 million to improve rural electric service in 13 states. In South Dakota, Clay-Union Electric Corporation gets a $6,871,000 loan to build 118 miles of distribution line, work on smart grid projects, and make other system improvements that will provide more reliable electricity.

But I'm sure you Republicans will vote to send that money back to Washington, right?


The Keystone XL pipeline will drain South Dakota's electricity supply. What can we do to compensate for all the electricity those oil pumping stations will use to prevent our utilities from having to raise our rates to build more coal-fired power plants?

One simple solution is for South Dakota to import more Democrats, who use less electricity:

Two UCLA economists report that, in the area served by an unnamed utility in the Western United States, households headed by registered Democrats use less electricity than those headed by registered Republicans. This holds true after factoring in variables such as climate, the price of electricity, and the size and age of the homes in question.

The difference in kilowatt hours suggests that left-leaning voters are less likely to respond to uncomfortable heat by reaching for thermostat. “Liberal households engage in voluntary restraint, largely by lowering air-conditioning in the summer relative to conservatives,” Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn write in the journal Economics Letters [Tom Jacobs, "Liberal Homeowners Use Less Electricity," Pacific Standard, 2013.03.07].

We liberals are known for our restraint, not to mention our ability to take the heat.

The Greens keep their electric bills even lower:

“Relative to Republican registered households, Democrats consume 5.1 percent less electricity, and Green party registered voters consume 15.1 percent less,” they report. “This differential grows larger in the hotter summer months.

“We estimate that during the summer, Democrats consume 6.6 percent less electricity than observationally identical Republicans, while Green Party households consume 19.1 percent less electricity than Republican households. This larger summer differential is likely to be related to air-conditioning demand [Jacobs 2013.03.07].

So here's the plan: When President Obama approves Keystone XL and South Dakota and protestors flock to West River to slow down construction of this unnecessary environmental risk, we send out our Chamber of Commerce reps to encourage them to stick around after the pipeline is done. The liberal protestors stick around, make themselves at home in nice energy-efficient yurts...

...of course, the problem with this plan is that it doesn't reduce our electrical demand unless the liberal influx scares an equal number of conservatives out of the state. And we don't want anyone feeling unwelcome. It looks like we'll have to focus on stopping Keystone XL to save our electricity.


I've been working with a Dakota Rural Action committee to promote small-scale renewable energy. We've held a couple public education events and spread the word about DRA members putting up their own renewable energy systems.

But now we've got legislation to promote renewable energy. Rep. Paula Hawks (D-9/Hartford) put House Bill 1207 in the hopper yesterday. HB 1207 is our net metering proposal.

Net metering is a simple concept. Your electric meter on the back of your house spins one way to measure the electricity flowing from the utility grid into your house. If you put up a wind turbine and on some windy day generate more power than your house uses, your meter could spin backwards to measure the net surplus of electricity flowing back to the grid. Given "net metering," you'd pay for the electricity you used, but your electric company would pay you back for the surplus electricity you produced for your neighbors to use.

Net metering is a fairness issue. If you produce something valuable, you should get a fair price for it. Energy is the most valuable commodity we have. Net metering allows us to give a fair price to homeowners, farmers, and ranchers who install small renewable energy systems that produce surplus power. Yet South Dakota is one of only four states that don't require power companies to extend this fairness to their forward-thinking customers.

Net metering won't make solar panel-users rich, but it will help them reach the break-even point on small-scale energy systems sooner. That will encourage more people to invest in on-site energy systems. More renewable energy, generated by more individuals, is exactly the kind of clean and distributed power that will make individuals and communities around South Dakota more energy self-sufficient.

House Bill 1207 supports fairness and local self-sufficiency. It gets South Dakota on the same page as the rest of the nation in promoting renewable energy. I look forward to HB 1207 getting a hearing before committee so we can tell more people about the virtues of net metering.


The Madison City Commission is raising electric rates for its customers. With the barest quorum present Monday night, the commission voted 3–0 to reconfigure city electric bills to show a base rate and a separate surcharge. That surcharge goes into a new fund dedicated to maintaining and upgrading the municipal electrical system. The net damage: roughly 5% increases for all customers, residential and commercial.

That rate increase will cut into Global Polymer's bottom line. That company just broke ground on its new facility in Madison last Wednesday. Global Polymer bolted from Arlington due to that city's high electric rates. At Madison's new rates, Global Polymer will still enjoy 18% savings on their per-kilowatt-hour rate from what they were paying in Arlington. But it increases the gap between what they'll pay in Madison and what they could have saved by moving to Howard or Brookings, where electricity is a full penny cheaper per kilowatt-hour.

Of course, this assumes Global Polymer will face the same rate increases as other customers in Madison. The articles about Global Polymer's escape from Arlington keep mentioning the big role Heartland played in bringing the manufacturer to Madison. I wonder what their incentive package looks like and how it compares with the breaks long-standing businesses in the community receive on their utility rates.

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The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has released an analysis of how much renewable energy we could produce in each state if we really tried. According to the data, the U.S. could generate over 450,000 terawatt-hours of renewable electricity. Compare that to the 3,800 terawatt-hours of retail electricity we used in 2010. If we hooked up enough wind turbines, solar panels, and biomass systems to take advantage of just 1% of our renewable energy potential, we'd have enough green electricity to shut down every coal-fired power plant and still switch on a lot more iPads.

Here are the terawatt-hours South Dakota could get from various renewable sources, in descending order of potential:

  • rural photvoltaic: 10,009
  • wind: 2,902
  • concentrated photovoltaic: 1,630
  • enhanced geothermal: 922.0
  • biopower: 8.615
  • urban photovoltaic: 4.574
  • rooftop photovoltaic: 2.083
  • hydropower: 1.047

South Dakota's total retail electric consumption in 2010 was 11.4 terawatt-hours. In other words, if we went whole hog on the four renewable energy resources that have the least potential in South Dakota, we'd have more electricity than we could use. Alternatively (hee hee!), if we tapped just a little more than one one-thousandth of South Dakota's rural photovoltaic potential—forget wind turbines, just solar panels—we could meet all of our electricity needs.

This interactive map of renewable energy potential shows how much kind of green power is available in your county. Click and learn!

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