In mid-winter, the arching quarter-mile-long sprinkler frames sit parked in Jim Anderson's fields in a thick crust of wind-carved snow and ice. Come summer, though, they'll begin their slow, circular rotation, watering row after row of corn, sugar beets and kidney beans.
Anderson, the great-great-grandson of Swedish immigrants who started farming this land in the 1880s, relies on more than 50 of these center pivot irrigators -- each one pumping up to 800 gallons of groundwater per minute -- to produce the kind of harvests his ancestors could have only dreamed of.
Modern irrigation technology has transformed this region in Stearns, Pope, Douglas and Kandiyohi counties in west central Minnesota, known as the Bonanza Valley. A former glacial river bed north of Willmar, it's largely covered with thin, sandy soils that don't retain moisture as well as more fertile farmland elsewhere in the state.
"Without the water, none of this would be possible," said Anderson, 61, paging through a book of yield maps in a newly built conference room in one of the farm's red outbuildings. Where his parents struggled in some years to raise a single cob of corn, 200 bushels per acre is now common.
But as groundwater use in the area surges to record levels, questions are resurfacing about whether there will be enough water for future generations of farmers without having an adverse effect on the area's lakes, streams, wetlands and drinking water supplies.
Eric McDonald was 23 and fresh out of college when he started writing code for a software program to help health care providers better manage work flow in their clinics.
Fifteen years later, McDonald’s software is used in 700 urgent care centers across the country. What started in his basement is now one of Sioux Falls’ fastest-growing companies, employing about 170 people and planning to nearly double in size soon.
McDonald’s DocuTap is the kind of success story South Dakota would like to tell more often: creative entrepreneurs turning ideas into successful startup companies that have the potential to become high-growth businesses.
It’s also a type of entrepreneurship – driven by technology and innovation – that hasn’t been well supported by the state’s existing incentive programs, South Dakota’s top economic development official said.
“We’ve all started to realize this is an area that we’re lacking in the state,” said Pat Costello, the governor’s economic development commissioner.
That’s led to an ongoing conversation in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development about how the administration can broaden the state’s pool of venture capital, as well as more grassroots efforts to bolster the startup scene. Both are making plans this year that could change the landscape for South Dakota entrepreneurs.
From a window seat, the first glimpse of Denmark’s sustainability ambition waves at air travelers as they make their descent into Copenhagen’s airport. Middelgrunden, a row of 20 towering turbines audaciously anchored to a reef more than a mile from dry land, was the world’s largest offshore wind farm when it was built in 2000. Today, along with Copenhagen’s famous bicycle scene, these blades remain among the most visible signs of a decades-long green transition underway in this city, which aspires to be the world’s first carbon-neutral capital in 2025.
It’s big goals and big investments like these that have helped give Denmark and its neighbors Norway and Sweden an outsized presence in the sustainability world. As it sheds a dirtier, oil-dependent past, Scandinavia has become a mecca for green energy, design and policy, boasting some of the world’s most efficient buildings, lowest fossil fuel use and boldest emission targets.
Yet, exceptional as these Scandinavian countries appear — and they certainly are above average — each also faces significant questions and contradictions as it attempts to minimize its impact on the climate and planet.
The solar industry isn’t the only one lining up for a piece of utilities’ lunch. Cable and telecom companies are increasingly calling on utility customers to pitch home energy management services. Comcast, AT&T and Verizon have all launched products in recent years to help customers track and lower their energy use.
What if instead of offering electricity by the kilowatt-hour, utilities sold light, cooling, and screen time? That’s the idea behind a new utility business model being discussed by a civic leadership group in Minnesota that’s looking for ways to better promote energy efficiency in the state.
When it came time for Warecorp to finally have a physical headquarters, CEO Chris Dykstra decided against the traditional office space route. Instead, the software and web services company bought a group membership at a downtown Minneapolis coworking space for its 10 U.S. employees to use when they aren’t visiting clients.
HIBBING, Minn. — When a former high school hockey star proposed to develop a $2 billion “clean coal” power plant outside this northeastern Minnesota city, the news couldn’t have come at a better time.
The region had just lost 1,400 jobs from a major taconite plant shutdown, the worst economic news to hit the Iron Range in two decades. The prospect of replacing those jobs was celebrated by citizens, politicians and newspaper editorials with the enthusiasm of a March tournament bid.
Nearly a decade later, after having spent nearly $41 million in taxpayer money, the Mesaba Energy Project still has yet to secure key environmental permits; it hasn’t found a buyer for the electricity it wants to produce, and without a power-purchase agreement, it can’t find investors to fund construction.
The project’s backers are now changing their approach, seeking approval from the state’s legislature to shelve the “clean coal” component — temporarily, they say — and move forward instead with a conventional natural gas power plant.
That has opponents changing their cries from “boondoggle” to “bait-and-switch” and some speculating whether the apparent change in strategy might be a Hail Mary attempt to salvage something from the long controversial energy project.
Or, in keeping with hockey analogies:
“They are pulling their goalie, because they need to score a goal now,” said Aaron Brown, an author and newspaper columnist who has followed the project since 2001, first as a reporter and then as editor of the Hibbing Daily Tribune (he’s also chronicled the project on his blog, Minnesota Brown).
One moment, the Florida native was driving down a leafy suburban avenue. The next, his white Ford Explorer was violently rolling side-over-side around him. The crunch of metal and rattle of broken glass sounded to Tharin like someone shaking a child's piggy bank. By the time it stopped, his side was on the concrete and his legs were pinned under the steering column.
Minnesota utility regulators on Thursday answered most but not all questions about the shape of a new community solar gardens program. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission indicated that it would reject a proposal by the state’s largest electric utility to limit the number of community solar gardens that can be installed per quarter.
A debate in Minnesota about the social and environmental costs of power plant pollution has caught the attention of the world’s largest private-sector coal company. Peabody Energy wants a seat at the table as Minnesota prepares to update a two-decade-old figure that’s meant to help inform planning decisions about electricity generation in the state.
The sandy, heavily irrigated soils of the west central Minnesota area known as the Bonanza Valley lie in one of three places where the state is trying a new approach to managing groundwater. As part of Ground Level’s look at the state’s groundwater challenge, freelance reporter Dan Haugen explores in a story today the area’s increasing demand for water and what the potential is for demanding too much.
After a three-year pilot program that won praise from state officials and environmental groups, Minnesota’s largest natural gas utility is proposing to walk away from a concept known as revenue decoupling. CenterPoint Energy, which is in the midst of a contested rate case, said in a Jan. 31 regulatory filing that it will no longer seek approval for a permanent decoupling mechanism it proposed last summer.