Interstate electric transmission lines are increasingly being used to deliver wind power, one of the cleanest and most cost-effective sources of energy. Because wind is in abundant supply in our country, it can play a huge part in meeting our increased energy demands. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), wind power has the potential to produce 37 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year — that’s nearly 10 times the amount our nation’s current power needs. But most of the nation’s best wind resources are far from the densely populated areas that have the greatest energy demands. Interstate electric transmission lines can help transfer the resource to the people who need it and can help achieve the U.S. Department of Energy’s mission of 20% Wind Energy by 2030. It sounds like a reasonable solution, but does it make economic sense?

One of the biggest challenges lies in securing funding for interstate transmission lines. Projects like this can be a multibillion-dollar investment that requires a significant amount of upfront capital. With little to no government funding, it’s preventing many states from reaching their potential for wind energy generation.

Take South Dakota, for example. It ranks fourth in the country in terms of wind energy potential, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Its current 784 MW of installed capacity represents 26 percent of the state’s total load. South Dakota is quickly approaching the ceiling in terms of how much wind energy can be used within the state, but there is potential for much more wind to be captured and converted to energy.

The South Dakota Wind Energy Association (SDWEA) is an organization that supports and promotes wind energy in the state. Part of its goal is to find economic solutions to help South Dakota maximize its wind energy potential. SDWEA commissioned Burns & McDonnell to assess the economic viability of transporting wind energy from wind-rich areas in South Dakota to eastern load centers, such as Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee.

The approach was unique in that rather than calculating the cost to build at a predetermined location, it calculated a breakeven cost per kilowatt of incremental transfer capability and considered variables such as the source and the sink location (where the wind energy would be delivered). Although the study was developed specifically for South Dakota, the concept can be adapted for any project in any location and can be used as a screening tool for identifying potential development opportunities.

SDWEA now has the data it needs to help secure interest from developers and can present a variety of options that make building an interstate electric transmission line in South Dakota an appealing and economically viable solution.