Among the numerous impacts the Keystone XL pipeline will have on South Dakota, TransCanada's expansion of tar sands transmission capacity needs a new 76-mile transmission line strung from the Big Bend Dam at Fort Thompson south and west to Highway 18 about ten miles west of Winner:

U.S. State Department, Keystone XL Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, Appendix J, December 29, 2011, Figure 2-1.

U.S. State Department, Keystone XL Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, Appendix J, December 29, 2011, Figure 2-1.

TransCanada needs those power lines to divert Missouri River hydro power to its Keystone XL pumping stations. It also needs a new substation at the dam end on the Lower Brule Reservation and an expansion of the Witten substation at the south end.

In return for diverting renewable energy to push tar sands through our soil, we get a few thousand temporary jobs and 35 permament jobs spread out across the Great Plains.

You know what else would create thousands of temporary jobs and a few permanent energy jobs? The new wind power we'd get if South Dakota required utilities to generate a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources (a Renewable Portfolio Standard, or RPS):

The 160 megawatts is a reference to the study’s finding that states with an RPS realize that much in additional wind capacity development each year compared to states without one.

That would mean more than 3,000 temporary jobs lasting up to a year and 16 new, permanent jobs annually, according to [study authors Ryan] Cwach and [Alex] Baldwin. In addition, those jobs pay 13 percent higher than the median for all jobs in South Dakota [Nathan Johnson, "Yankton Native Helps Author Wind Study," Yankton Press & Dakotan, 2013.03.11].

Note that 160 megawatts refers to how much more wind energy development Cwach says we'd get each year from an RPS just in South Dakota. So with one simple legislative move, South Dakota could get at least as many jobs on an ongoing yearly basis, on projects that would make South Dakota a bigger energy producer rather than a mere host of externalities stretching its own green energy supply to ship foreigners' oil.

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I'm on the Dakota Rural Action committee that brought you the net-metering bill this Legislative session. Net metering (paying people for the useful surplus power that they produce with renewable power devices) is one way to promote small-scale, community-based energy (read: self-reliance, Governor Daugaard!).

That may be part of why South Dakota utilities didn't like our bill. They may be worried that rooftop solar panels and wind turbines will do to them what blogs and other social media are doing to the Rapid City Journal and that Sioux Falls paper (hat tip to Mr. Gibilisco!):

Every new solar panel installed on European rooftops chips away at power utilities' centralized production model. Unless they reinvent themselves soon, these giants risk becoming the dinosaurs of the energy market.

The industry faces drastic change as renewable energy turns consumers into producers and hollows out the dominance of utilities [Geert De Clercq, "Renewables Turn Utilities into Dinosaurs of the Energy World," Reuters, 2013.03.08].

Consumers, producers... conducers!

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says the United States added 433 megawatts of new electrical production capacity last month. Every erg-per-second of that juice came from renewable energy installations. 300 megawatts of wind power, 133 megawatts of solar power—all green. Take that, Koch Brothers!

Speaking of whom, the fossil-fuel lobby is working to destroy the Production Tax Credit that would boost American wind power production even more. Remember, that's the same position Mitt Romney takes, wanting to shut down more South Dakota jobs.

We should be thrilled to see a whole bunch of electricity placed online that doesn't require burning up more finite resources. Wind and sunshine don't run out... at least not for another five billion years. We should celebrate shifting more of our energy to clean sources and vote out those who would keep rejiggering our laws and economy to favor faster consumption of dirty fuel that will run out just for short-term profit.

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Kristi Noem has famously declared that she "didn't go to Washington to talk." She went to Washington "to get stuff done."

Talking is about all she is doing. She hasn't gotten stuff done on the production tax credit to keep 92 workers in Aberdeen from losing their jobs:

Molded Fiber Glass is laying off one-fourth of its workforce in Aberdeen.

Plant manager Dave Giovannini says that 92 people are losing their jobs. About 370 people worked at the plant.

Giovannini cites a drop in orders for wind turbine blades related to the uncertainty about the future of a federal wind energy production tax credit ["Aberdeen Plant Laying off Nearly 100 Workers," AP via KELOLand.com, September 12, 2012].

Rep. Noem's response: more talk:

I have been calling for months for an extension of the PTC so that unfortunate news like this could potentially be avoided.

The wind industry has not been provided the certainty it needs from the federal government. I believe it is unacceptable that people are losing their jobs because of uncertainty from Washington, and I will continue fighting to get this important tax credit extended [Rep. Kristi Noem, quoted by Jeff Natalie-Lees, "Congressional Members Say Wind Credit in Process," Aberdeen American News, September 12, 2012].

Notice how Kristi Noem keeps talking about Washington as if she's not part of it, as if she's not supposed to be working there and taking responsibilty for what gets done, what doesn't get done, and who gets hurt when she fails to get things done. That's a serious case of denial, Kristi.

South Dakota Democratic Party chief Ben Nesselhuf points out that Noem's D.C. impotence puts a thousand South Dakota jobs at risk. Her inability to end the uncertainty about the production tax credit already contributed to the loss of the Maroney Commons jobs in Howard. If she keeps talking and not doing, the loss of the production tax credit could cost the nation 37,000 jobs by next spring.

Matt Varilek will make good speeches, but he won't make excuses. He'll bring enough smarts and skill to Washington to start getting things like the PTC extension done on day one.

By the way, President Barack Obama supports extending the production tax credit. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan both oppose extending the production tax credit.

For whom are you voting, Aberdeen?

Update 19:03 MDT: Holy cow! While Kristi rides horse on top of some RNC video-boilerpate, Matt rides herd on her do-nothingness:

"A lot of noise, but not much forward progress"—that's Kristi! Well done, Matt!

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I've spoken glowingly of Maroney Commons, the remarkable LEED-certified hotel, restaurant, and conference center built by the Rural Learning Center in Howard. So has my neighbor Ken Meyer, who wrote on the Rural Learning Center's blog last month that Maroney Commons is a metaphor for rural.

"Rural" is going to need a new metaphor. A year after its grand opening, Maroney Commons is closing. The dream of establishing a busy conference center in a town with a population of less than 1000, 70 miles from the nearest regional airport, 30 miles from the Interstate, was just too ambitious.

Some members of the conservative peanut gallery can point to Maroney Commons as a mini-Solyndra. Stimulus dollars partially funded the building, and now the facility and jobs are defunct.

But wait: it may be Romney-Republican thinking that is undoing the good brought to Miner County by the stimulus and Maroney Commons:

In the past year, the conference center has had a variety of visitors, but one key component to its operation was being able to offer a training place for Airstreams Renewables, Inc., a company that offers accelerated training for employees looking to get into the wind industry.

Callies said Airstreams has currently backed off on its training schedule. One component in moving the industry forward is the production tax credit, which is currently set to expire and requires federal action to extend.

"It was an integral part of the business plan with that constant training," Callies said. "I see a lot of hesitancy to move forward" [Elisa Sand, "Maroney Commons to Close Sept. 3," Madison Daily Leader, August 27, 2012].

President Obama has been pushing for renewal of the production tax credit, saying that ending it now will cost thousands of jobs. So has Rep. Kristi Noem. Maroney Commons proves them right... and Mitt Romney wrong, at least for rural South Dakota.

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I can think of only two logical explanations for Mitt Romney's reiteration of the GOP's Drill Baby Drill energy plan:

  1. He just got some big donations from Big Oil executives.
  2. He's a catastrophic millennialist: Jesus is coming, so why save fossil fuels for the grandkids? Burn, baby, burn!

Romney slipped when he announced his energy plan yesterday. He started to say "American energy..." then quickly corrected himself and emphasized "North American energy" (the NPR transcript simply elides the slip, but listen to the audio). Steve Sibson should be going ape over this NAFTA-globalism... but I have a feeling Sibby isn't going to help us point out the real problems with Romney's energy plan. So here goes:

First, Romney relies almost exclusively on increased production and use of fossil fuels. He expresses no concern for the pollution, disease, and other environmental externalities that will inevitably result. Far from it: he calls the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other environmental regulations "outdated." Pollute more, regulate less: I can't make the Romney-GOP agenda any more clear and concise.

Second, Romney dismisses wind and solar as "failure[s]" and "fads." Hmm... wind and solar provided 15% of the European Union's electricity at the end of 2011, including 68% of the new electrical capacity in Europe last year. But Romney doesn't want us to be more like Europe... unless he's discussing nuclear plants, on which topic he touts France's construction of fifteen new nuclear power plants over the last three decades. Solar power use is growing exponentially. And we don't even need new technology: if we just stuck with our current wind and solar tech, we could meet 80% of America's electricity needs with renewable energy by 2050. The only failure here is Romney's failure of will; the only fad is oil, which greases Romney's palms now but will dry up long before the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining.

Third, Romney does not mention conservation. He only mentions the word conservative once, as a paste-on and contradictory label for regulatory "reform" (odd: conservatives by definition prefer the status quo, not big changes), increasing production (the absolute opposite of conserving), and funding basic research (vague and not inherently conservative or liberal). American oil demand is trending flat for numerous reasons, not the least of which is sensible conservation. We could be energy judo masters (like France and China), winning independence with the energy we don't use. But apparently conservation and efficiency are not manly enough for Republicans, for whom the only route to greatness is to punch holes in everything.

Fourth, Romney hilariously thinks the Keystone XL pipeline will bring all that Canadian oil to our market. Keystone XL will take oil directly to the Gulf of Mexico and tankers waiting to haul it to China. Romney also pumps the long-refuted myth that Keystone XL will bring 100,000 new jobs.)

The only possible merit to Mitt Romney's plan is reform by catastrophism: we'll leave our kids in such a dire economic and environmental situation that they'll have to make large-scale renewable energy work... because we'll have burned up everything else.

North America is already headed for an energy surplus by 2030; any more oil that we produce is headed for the global market. Romney's energy plan isn't about promoting energy independence; it's about helping his Big Oil donors grab more cheap product and sell it on the global market for big profits.

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Kristi Noem and Mitt Romney disagree. South Dakota's Congresswoman joined 17 House freshmen at the end of June in calling for an extension of the production tax credit that boosts development of wind power. (Once again, Rep. Noem appears to have gone to Washington to talk, not get anything done: HR 3307, the PTC-extension bill she asked Speaker Boehner to bring to the floor in her June letter, hasn't moved.)

Rep. Noem's support for the production tax credit puts her on President Obama's side, not her nominee's. Mitt Romney plays capitalist and says the production tax credit should die:

Campaign aides confirmed that Romney wants the quick demise of the credits, which will lapse in less than six months absent congressional action, ending uncertainty about how he wants to phase out the credits.

"He will allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits," Shawn McCoy, a spokesman for Romney's Iowa campaign, said in a statement to The Des Moines Register.

"Wind energy will thrive wherever it is economically competitive, and wherever private sector competitors with far more experience than the president believe the investment will produce results," McCoy said [Ben Geman, "Romney Campaign: Let Wind Energy Credit Die This Year," The Hill: E2 Wire, 2012.07.30].

Noem's support for anything other than oil places her at odds not just with the corporate figurehead of the GOP, but the arch-conservative Big-Oil funders thereof. The Koch brothers and their "American Energy Alliance" front group are running ads criticizing Noem and other farm-state reps for supporting "wasteful energy subsidies" in the House farm bill.

So I'm still wondering: on energy, agriculture, and everything else, is Kristi Noem really a conservative? Or does she just go whichever way the wind blows her?

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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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