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Power Companies Pull Support from Gregory County Reservoir Project

Gregory County could have produced some super-clean electricity by embracing a proposed pumped-storage project that would have used wind power to pump Missouri River Water uphill into a 40-billion-gallon reservoir that could then release the power downhill through a hydroelectric plant when the grid needs more juice. But since we can only take land away from Indians and from farmers standing in the way of rich Iowa Republicans and outside oil profits, the Gregory County Pumped Storage Project won’t proceed:

MidAmerican Energy and Missouri River Energy Services have pulled the plug on their proposed Gregory County Pumped Storage Project.

In a news release today (May 23, 2023), the two companies said, “While pumped storage technology is proven and the need for energy storage solutions is essential for regional reliability, the companies have decided not to pursue the project at this time.” They went on to say, “MidAmerican and MRES made this decision based on the same due diligence we employ in every project we do” [Jody Heemstra, “Gregory County Pumped Storage Project Nixed,” DRG News, 2023.05.23].

Jerry Oster of WNAX reports that the companies decided the project was too financially risky. Evidently MidAmerican Energy and Missouri River Energy Services are just the latest entrepreneurs to fail to find a business case for the project. The Gregory County Pumped Storage Project has floated around in proposal-land since 1981 and is even written into state law (SDCL 46A-1-2.1) as a water resources project that the Legislature has deemed “necessary for the general welfare of the people of this state”, but in 42 years, no one has decided to invest in moving real earth and water to build this reservoir.

Local opponents worried that the project would bring lots of new people to Platte, disturb fishing and wildlife, and put rural water availability at risk. You’d think most towns strapped for cash would welcome an influx of workers, as former Platte legislator and GCPSP opponent Lee Qualm did when he supported the Keystone XL pipeline. Water supply seems a curious concern: the current inflow into Lake Francis Case of 27,355 cubic feet per second would fill the proposed 40-billion-gallon power reservoir 2.26 days, and every drop that the pumped storage project uses would eventually be put right back into circulation.

But if the ROI isn’t there, the Gregory County Pumped Storage Project will remain an unfunded figment of our hydroelectric imagination.


  1. Nick Nemec 2023-05-24 08:36

    A greener energy future would take advantage of projects like this that can store energy at times of low cost and low demand for use when costs and demand are high.

  2. Donald Pay 2023-05-24 09:03

    I don’t know how many iterations of the Gregory County Pumped Storage Project have occurred since it was proposed, but no one seems able to make any economic sense of it. That didn’t stop Pat Patitz and Judy Harrington from pushing the original concept. Harrington headed the South Dakota Water Congress for a time after her former boss, George McGovern, lost his Senate race in 1980. But Harrington was leading the Water Congress after the Carter Administration had dealt a blow to bad water projects and subsequently when the Reagan Administration came to power. Under Reagan there was less environmental concern, but it was economics which killed these projects off. Reagan refused to fund projects that didn’t have have local and state financial buy-in. That squashed most of them. There was some money for “studies” for a few projects, and I believe the Gregory County project got some federal money for one or two of its iterations. But “studies” was as far as it got under the 1980s. Mickelson reformed the corrupt state water project system, putting more emphasis on smaller community projects or the larger rural water delivery projects. The big projects supported by the Water Congress had much more trouble with Mickelson. There was still too much power in the corrupt system, however, to completely get rid of projects. I mean, CENDAK? So, Mickelson found a way to stick these projects into state law, fund them at starvation levels and end them quietly. That’s how we got the original version of SDCL 46A-1-2.1. Of course, it has been amended since to add some projects that are worthwhile, and a few of the original projects were OK, too, and some have been deleted. I’d delete the whole statutue.

  3. larry kurtz 2023-05-24 09:11

    Wow. Good remembering, Mr. Pay. Was a canal or a pipeline tapped farther upstream ever considered for the Gregory project?

  4. Donald Pay 2023-05-24 11:24

    Larry, I forgot more than I remember about that water project. The original project envisioned irrigation as a part of the project, so it likely had some canals and/or pipelines associated with it. How far upstream they were going to be, I don’t know. It was going to be an energy loser, because much of that water would be evaporated.

  5. Donald Pay 2023-05-24 11:49

    I meant to say “the original project may have envisioned Irrigation as part o the project,…” I can’t remember if it was part of the original project or if some irrigation was included later, or if irrigation was just on someone’s wish list. There was another irrigation project down that way that I may have confused with this one. That project was Lake Andes-Wagner/Marty II.

  6. Retired 2023-05-24 14:52

    I’ve never understood the need for an additional dam when the three COE dams could furnish the storage needed to serve as a battery for wind power. There almost always 10,000 cubic foot per second being discharged from the dams, some of that discharge could be pumped back up into the reservoir with wind power.

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