South Dakota is one of six states that hasn’t applied for a federal grant program to support solar energy projects around the nation.
The Solar for All initiative aims to lower utility costs and promote renewable energy. The state governments that have not applied for grants are all led by Republican governors: Florida, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada and South Dakota.
Gov. Kristi Noem’s spokesperson, Amelia Joy, noted that 84% of South Dakota’s energy comes from renewable resources and that the federal funding could come with strings attached.
“Governor Noem absolutely believes that the federal government’s wasteful spending, much of it at the behest of President Biden, is the single largest cause of the inflation crisis that our nation finds itself in,” Joy said in an email.
The Inflation Reduction Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Biden in 2022, earmarks $7 billion for about 60 solar projects in the U.S.
While states such as North Carolina and Texas are pursuing the grants, South Dakota’s inaction has frustrated environmental advocates.
Arlene Brandt-Jenson is with SoDak 350, a sustainability and climate change advocacy group. She said the organization is “disappointed in that news, but not surprised,” given that Noem’s administration has already passed up other federal funding aimed at mitigating heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, called the Climate Pollution Reduction Grant program.
That program offered $3 million to create a plan to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and access to a $4.6 billion fund for implementation.
Homeowners, residents hurt by passing on grant money, proponent says
“In the end, it’s the homeowners and residents that are hurt by the state passing up this money,” Brandt-Jenson said of the solar grants. “It’s just going to go to other states.”
Cities could also apply for solar grants, but none in South Dakota did. Two out-of-state nonprofits have submitted applications to advance projects in South Dakota: the American Solar Energy Society and the Coalition for Green Capital.
There has been mixed support for solar projects in South Dakota recently. Doral Renewables, an Israeli company, hopes to build a solar farm in Walworth County, but there has been pushback from local residents.
In May, Walworth “county commissioners placed a moratorium on the permitting of solar-related projects within its jurisdiction, a response to public pressure from nearby property owners,” The Dakota Scout reported earlier this year.
The moratorium is in place through spring.
An opposition group, Concerned Citizens of Walworth County, has been created. Its concerns include that hazardous materials used to build solar panels could harm water and wildlife.
Walworth County commissioners have already passed an ordinance that puts in place a 1,000-foot setback requirement from property lines and a mile setback from dwellings for solar farms. That could hinder the project.
Doral’s plan is to build 3,200 acres of solar farms south of Mobridge, which would make it one of the biggest solar farms in the nation.
Noem administration has regularly turned down federal money
The federal government funds nearly half of South Dakota’s state budget of about $7 billion. Nevertheless, passing on extra federal funding has become a hallmark of the Noem administration.
In 2020, the administration rejected extra unemployment benefits, provided by an executive measure of then-President Trump during the pandemic. The measure provided an additional $300 in unemployment benefits per week, but it required states to kick in another $100.
South Dakota also passed on a share of $1 billion in nationwide cybersecurity grants for county and city governments, and a federal effort that would have provided $7.5 million to feed low-income kids last summer in South Dakota through the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer program.
The Solar for All grants range from $25 million to $400 million, promising to bring rooftop residential panels, off-site solar projects, and solar installation jobs to areas largely left out of the renewable energy transition thus far. The Environmental Protection Agency expects to award the grants in March, 2024.
The deadline for the state to apply closed on Oct. 12.
Scott Waltman of The Aberdeen Insider and Austin Goss of The Dakota Scout contributed to this report.