SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Two impacted public school districts shared public comments with a federal regulation agency ahead of an initial-study phase regarding a proposed pumped-storage project along the Missouri River in Gregory County. 

In a submitted comment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Platte-Geddes School District acknowledged there could be potential tax benefits from the public project but said “there are far too many unknowns currently to support the project.”

The Burke Public School District said it remains “neutral” to the project while also acknowledging there could be a big impact from the project on the school. 

The FERC, which regulates the transmission and wholesale sale of electricity and natural gas in interstate commerce, received a number of public comments ahead of the first study plan for the project. The proposed project includes building a more than 1,000-acre reservoir on the West Side of the Missouri River that overlooks Lake Francis Case near the Platte-Winner bridge to generate energy that would be tied into regional and national grid systems. 

Water would be pumped uphill for future hydropower generation during times of high energy demand. Missouri River Energy Services, MidAmerican Energy and the Western Minnesota Municipal Power Agency are leading the study on the project calling it a natural “battery.” Proponents for the project say it would work alongside wind and solar energy to create “clean and reliable energy solution” for the region. 

Western Minnesota Municipal Power Agency filed its first notice of intent on the project with the FERC on June 28, 2022. Opposition to the project dominated the first public comment period.

A long and lengthy process awaits before any action is taken on the proposed project. 

The current timeline plan for the project is to conduct 24 different studies on soils, sediment, water, wildlife, geological features, feasibility and community impacts for the next two years. A final ruling on the project from the FERC wouldn’t happen until 2028 and construction wouldn’t be until 2029. 

Lawyer and MidAmerican Energy Company lobbyist Brett Koenecke summarized the current phase of the project as fact-finding and feasibility. 

“Is the juice worth the squeeze? That’s what we’re trying to find out,” Koenecke said to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in January

In April, an informal meeting is being planned to discuss the different studies and other impacts of the project. Time and dates have not been announced but the meeting is planned to be held in Platte. 

A revised study plan will be issued by Western Minnesota Municipal Power Agency in April and more public comment will be allowed on that revised study plan before the FERC will issue a final study plan determination in May. 

Opposition formed, worries about ‘biased’ studies   

Both the Gregory County Commission and Charles Mix County Commission are local governments opposed to the project. Along with submitted concerns of soil erosion, impacts to water recreation, land, aesthetics and economic concerns, both local governments called for third parties to complete studies. 

Submitted public comment from the Gregory County Commission says “Upon further reading of the proposed study plan submitted by Western Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, we believe that the study plan will not be adequate and will be very biased.”

The Charles Mix County Commission also called for future studies that were “complete, factual and unbiased.” 

A citizen-led opposition group called Citizens Against Missouri River Pumped Storage Project submitted 36 pages for public comment opposing the project citing a variety of concerns from interested stakeholders. 

The National Park Service submitted comments concerned about the visual impacts of the new transmission corridor, reservoir and access roads as well as changes in water flows and water quality to the Missouri River. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it was concerned the state of South Dakota was not participating in the project at this point. 

“The South Dakota Department of Agriculutre and Natural Resources is the Clean Water Act regulatory authority in the project area and should be involved in every phase of this project from stormwater permitting during construction to NPDES permits for operation of the final structure,” the letter from the USACE said.