Northeastern SD wind project faces more questions from state utilities commission

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — State regulators have delayed a decision whether a wind-power project can continue to be built in northeastern South Dakota.

Crowned Ridge Wind already has a permit from the state Public Utilities Commission for 87 towers in Grant and Codington counties.

But NextEra Energy recently asked for a temporary waiver so the Florida-based company can start generating electricity as soon as possible.

NextEra specifically needs warmer weather of a minimum 50 degrees F to install noise-reducing attachments on all of the blades.

Intervenors opposed to the project brought new information Monday.

Now the three commissioners want their staff to look deeper into whether NextEra is otherwise complying with the state permit.

The commission scheduled further consideration for January 7.

Northern States Power, doing business as Xcel Energy, has a contract to buy the electricity.

But NextEra faces a $75,000 daily penalty if the project isn’t operating January 1.

Xcel Energy lawyer Amanda Rome told the commission Monday she’ll need to look further into whether there could be reasons to forego the penalty.

Rome described the contract as “situational.”

Commissioner Chris Nelson asked for the delay.

“There’s been a lot put on the table today that we need to chew through and need answers for,” he said.

Intervenors Amber Christenson, Kristi Mogen and Allen Robish said NextEra has installed GE turbines capable of generating 2.7 megawatts, with some hubs at 80 meters high and others at 90 meters.

The intervenors also questioned a sound study that relies on an annual average rather than a range of summer and winter conditions. They called for the permit to be stopped.

NextEra officials said software limits the turbines to 2.3 megawatts, as the state permit requires, and there weren’t specific heights for each tower site in the company’s application.

Joshua Tran, NextEra’s director of construction, said the project didn’t start taking possession of the blades until July. Crews installed the sound-reduction attachments, known as low-noise trailing edges, on eight units.

“The trailing edges were not being received until September,” Tran said. “They stopped installing them in October, due to the temperatures not being what they need to be.”

Nelson wants commission staff to review the state permit on generator size and tower heights. He also called for a new sound study using winter conditions, when sound tends to travel farther.

Commissioner Gary Hanson agreed. “If it takes longer than that, it takes longer than that,” Hanson said.

The situation was “preventable” and the sound-reducing attachments could have been added indoors, in buildings that were available, according to Hanson. “There has to be better communication,” he said.

Hanson said a business needs to take the extra step in informing citizens and a good relationship is especially necessary when there is local opposition.

“The compliance with the permit is foundational,” Hanson said.

Nelson also agreed with Mogen that another blade-flicker study was needed.

He told NextEra lawyer Brian Murphy and company official David Gil, “You’ve got the message today: Surprises aren’t a good thing.”

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