Company pledges it won’t proceed on Hand County project without wind deal

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Sweetland Wind Farm in Hand County won’t proceed unless an agreement is reached with a purchaser of the 200 megawatts of electricity it could produce, the project manager said Tuesday.

The pledge by Mark Wengierski of Scout Clean Energy, based at Boulder, Colorado, helped convince the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission to approve a permit to construct the 71-turbine system southeast of Miller.

Mollie Smith, a lawyer representing the project, said negotiations are under way. She didn’t identify the other party.

The permit also applies to a seven-mile line tying the wind farm to the Western Area Power Administration’s line between Fort Thompson and Huron. The turbines would be in Pearl, Hulbert and Rose Hill townships.

The developer previously committed to local 4-H leaders to rebuild and upgrade the electricity systems for the livestock areas, exhibit building and show ring at the Hand County fairground in Miller.

The state Game, Fish and Parks Department has agreed to let the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Agency take the lead on various concerns about avian species such as grouse and whooping cranes.

The developer, for example, agreed with the commission staff that it would shut down any turbines within two miles of a whooping crane’s presence.

The company also agreed it won’t construct a turbine with a half-mile of the residence of Theresa Lichty, who intervened in the docket. The sides filed a joint stipulation last week.

On a separate matter, commissioners agreed to allow Brian Riniker to be the public liaison for the Crowned Ridge 1 wind farm in Grant and Codington counties, but several questioned his ability to fairly handle complaints.

Riniker previously was a full-time manager for the project. “It certainly raised eyebrows to me that (he’s) not a neutral party,” commissioner Kristie Fiegen said.

Fiegen asked Deb Gregg, who handles the commission’s public contacts. Replied Gregg, “It doesn’t raise any flags for me.”

Gregg noted that a pipeline company hired a person who formerly worked for that company.

Fiegen asked that commissioners be made aware if Riniker didn’t fulfill the role. “Absolutely,” Gregg replied, adding that she would tell landowners how to get unresolved matters brought to the commission’s attention.

Commissioner Gary Hanson said he had similar questions and asked Riniker if he could be neutral. “I believe I can,” Riniker replied, adding: “I will do my best.”

Commissioner Chris Nelson said Riniker had strong qualifications. Nelson said he was willing to give Riniker the benefit of the doubt.

Fiegen got in a final word to Riniker: “I hope you adhere to our expectation of you being neutral.”

The commission also opened considerations in two new wind-project dockets. Tatanka Ridge Wind wants to build in Deuel County. Crowned Ridge Wind II hopes to expand into more of Deuel, Codington and Grant counties.

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