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South Dakota’s Next Big Thing: Jump on the Solar Power Train?

Since Kristi Noem seems to have decided that South Dakota’s “Next Big Thing” is herself, I guess it’s up to the 887,769 of us not elected to govern the state to figure out South Dakota’s path to 21st-century economic development ourselves.

One Next Big Thing could be solar power. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, South Dakota only has 1.8 megawatts of solar capacity at 41 installations. The only state with less installed solar power capacity is North Dakota, with 0.6 megawatts.

Compare our sunny laggardliness to much dinkier states and one should-be state:

Total Area (Sq mi) Land Area (sq mi) Solar Power (MW) Solar Installations Solar Power/Land Area
South Dakota






District of Columbia






New Hampshire


















Rhode Island






























New Jersey






John Thune goes to obstruction work every day in a district smaller than Sioux Falls but which has the panels to generate 60 times more solar power than all of South Dakota does.

The cause of South Dakota’s lack of solar power isn’t latitude. Most of those small states share parallels with us and are soaking up and using a much greater share of their sunshine than we are. Most of Minnesota is more northerly than we are, yet they have installed 871 times more solar power capacity. Even Alaska, where the sun literally does not shine in some places for months at a time, has 12.1 megawatts of solar compared to our measly 1.8 MW.

Solar power jobs did decrease nationally last year by 6.7%, but that was due to the coronavirus pandemic, not any waning of interest in solar power. Installation jobs took the least hit, since it’s easier to keep your distance when you’re outside bolting solar panels onto barns. Closer-quarter jobs in manufacturing and sales dropped more. The solar workers who stayed on the job still installed more solar capacity than the year before.

SEIA, National Solar Jobs Census 2020, retrieved 2021.05.07.
SEIA, National Solar Jobs Census 2020, retrieved 2021.05.07.
SEIA, National Solar Jobs Census 2020, retrieved 2021.05.07.
SEIA, National Solar Jobs Census 2020, retrieved 2021.05.07.

The clean-energy components of President Joe Biden’s super-duper infrastructure plan would require quadrupling our solar-power workforce. South Dakota could get on that jobs bus by branding itself as the Bakken fields of sunshine—and the cool thing is, we won’t run out of sunshine the way North Dakota is already running out of affordably frackable oil. And solar jobs pay comparably to other energy jobs and better than other jobs in major sectors:

SEIA, retrieved 2021.05.07.
SEIA, retrieved 2021.05.07.

If we just put some sunglasses on our vision, South Dakota could pitch itself as the next hotbed of solar development, inviting an explosion of good-paying, long-lasting jobs. Instead, our “visionary” (divisionaryrevisionary) Governor puts on her blinders and begs for temporary workers to come sling hash at Wall Drug.


  1. Jake 2021-05-07 08:51

    But don’t call her UNTIL you’re an American!

  2. Jake 2021-05-07 09:08

    If Black Hills Energy gets their request to punish solar user/homeowners approved by the state Public Utility commission, there will be far, far less solar installed, increasing the profits of that corporation tremendously. First, a $10.00 monthly solar meter charge (bound to increase) and only paying the producer of the electricity a small fraction of the wholesale rate they would pay their major energy supplier for the electricity.
    This is the same as the county assessor charging me more on taxes when I paint my shabby house to look better or improving my road so I can access the county paid road more easily.
    Only here in South Dakota, does the party in power exist solely to benefit the corporate entities in such a way that all benefits flow quickly to the top of the economic ladder-rarely acting for those in most need of relief.
    Black Hills Energy and other regulated utilities should be coming up qith plans to further consumer production of electricity thru the use of pannels.

  3. Donald Pay 2021-05-07 09:33

    I think you can forget South Dakota ever getting past the early 20th century any time soon. When you have a governor who seems stuck in 1776, and doesn’t want students to progress much beyond that, you are more likely to go backward into the dark ages than into the bright sunlight of the future. South Dakota had its opportunity to lead on alternative energy in the 1990’s. It decided it was content putting it’ head in the sand. Bye, bye, South Dakota.

    I walk by rooftop solar panels every day on my walk through the neighborhood. Libraries in my town have solar arrays, and the displays inside the library show how much energy is being generated. Our airport is going to be decked out in solar collectors. Wind is big, and getting bigger.

    South Dakota lost out big time. They could have led this. Instead all the black people in DC who Noem, Rounds and Thune want to keep from voting or having a state, lead the backward people in South Dakota in twenty-first century technology. No, you don’t want THOSE PEOPLE coming out there and changing you. You’re too busy going backward you can’t be bothered.

  4. John 2021-05-07 09:44

    Cory’s spot on – it’s attitude not latitude.
    Germany’s led on solar for over a decade plus, despite Frankfurt being on the same parallel as is Winnipeg.

  5. Visitor 2021-05-07 10:35

    Its great to have a lot of ideas to make our state better. Bashing the gov is not productive.
    Its my opinion that if you have an idea she would gladly discuss it and have other leaders weigh in. She has a responsibility to all of us. My suggestion is if you disagree wirh her the tell her.

  6. grudznick 2021-05-07 10:37

    The more electrical engineers and construction managers you have, the more people you need to sling hash. Hash slingers, barbers, and garbage-people are a very important part of society and somebody has to do it.

  7. bearcreekbat 2021-05-07 11:37

    Can solar panels generate electricity that can be used in a home without first going through BH Energy or another electric company?

    And how do West River Electric and other electric companies, other than BH Energy, treat home owner solar generated electricity? Do the other electric companies in the state currently pay consumers for electricty generated by solar panels and then charge back consumers who generate thsi electricty in the same way as BHPL seeks to do? If not will the proposed tariff permit these other companies to screw consumers with solar panels in the same manner as BH Energy wants to do?

  8. Mark Anderson 2021-05-07 11:58

    The wind blew, the —- flew, and there came kristi noem and crew. No sunlight for you South Dakota.

  9. jerry 2021-05-07 14:49

    Jake nails it. Black Hills Energy will never ever allow solar energy or wind in South Dakota. Their losses were to great to the Texas ice storm to even think about doing something that they have always been against. Minnesota lost $800,000.00 in that storm, so Black Hills Energy would have lost at least that much if not a whole lot more. NOem knows though, you can bet on that.

  10. Porter Lansing 2021-05-07 21:24

    No, way! Solar is socialism.

  11. NOeMind 2021-05-10 07:41

    Visitor stated: “Bashing the gov is not productive. Its my opinion that if you have an idea she would gladly discuss it and have other leaders weigh in. She has a responsibility to all of us. My suggestion is if you disagree wirh her the tell her.”

    What planet has visitor been on to miss the fact our governor does not listen to anyone by her BFF Cory? No one can tell Noem anything. The only place the people of South Dakota who do not pay Noem and the GOP right wingers any potential ideas for improving the state is in places like this, THANKS CORY & DFP!

    BTW, a friend told me the company he works for based in South Dakota has been trying to be a major player in the solar installation and maintenance field but South Dakota has such a poor education and work system they are unable to hire the necessary licensed electricians needed. If Noem had any plan for the future success of South Dakotans she would be pushing for more licensed electricians and the infrastructure they would be able to install.

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