S.D. regulators reverse earlier ruling and add a residence to a wind farm’s second sound study

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The rural Strandberg residence of Amber Christenson will be part of the Crowned Ridge I wind project’s second sound study after all this fall, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission decided Tuesday.

The 2-1 vote reversed a decision the commission had made last month, when Gary Hanson was the only one Christenson could persuade that her place should be included too.

The second study is intended to show the Crowned Ridge turbines in Grant and Codington aren’t louder than the project permit allows at residences in and around the project area — 45 decibels at a distance 25 feet from residences for non-participating landowners and 50 decibels for participants, with an exception for waivers.

The first study however measured sound at Christenson’s property line, in the midst of trees, rather than at a point 25 feet from her home. Christenson, who’s been fighting the project, says the sound at her home exceeds 45 decibels. She made another request to the commission, and chairman Chris Nelson switched sides, after she agreed Tuesday to two conditions.

Christenson, participating by telephone, answered Nelson’s questions that she would accept the result of whatever sound measurement was found 25 feet from her residence, and she would agree that Crowned Ridge would shut down all turbines within 1.75 miles of her place during the second test, as it had for the first.

Miles Schumacher, a Sioux Falls attorney representing the developer, NextEra Energy Resources, argued that Christenson had already waited too long and missed her opportunity to get into the second study.

The commission had ordered in April a variety of sound-abatement steps and landowner waivers that Crowned Ridge had to do to meet the sound limits in condition 26 of its state permit.

The commission’s staff analyzed NextEra’s mitigation plan.

One of the staff’s observations was that the turbines weren’t running last winter in what’s known as ‘winter ice operations mode.’ That is the purpose of the second round of sound tests this fall.

“In order to verify WIOM corrected the problem, Crowned Ridge plans to conduct additional sound testing in the Fall of 2021 during similar weather patterns as those that occurred during the limited sound threshold exceedances,” the staff report said.

Hanson acknowledged there would be some additional cost to adding Christenson’s residence to the fall study.

“Yes, it’s going to cost a little bit more, but we’re talking about a huge project that is costing hundreds of millions of dollars and to include her in that process is such a small amount compared to the entire project,” he said.

“I just think that from a standpoint of resolving the issue and not having to deal with it in the future — I’m a little concerned why Crowned Ridge doesn’t want to put this to bed because to me I’m going to rely upon this study as being the study and if there’s a problem a year from now there would have to be something tremendously significant that has taken place, because I just want this to be resolved one way or another and I think this does that for me,” he said.

Commissioner Kristie Fiegen again opposed Christenson’s attempt to be part of the fall study. Fiegen said she understood the PUC staff consultant’s willingness to let in Christenson as a community relations move.

“But when I look at the scale, and I need to balance it, I always look at the technical expertise,” she said. “And I look at the technical expertise and the facts that the experts put in front of us, and when I look at that I don’t see a reason to reconsider and amend what Crowned Ridge is doing now, so I will not be voting to support Commissioner Hanson’s motion today.”

Nelson explained his flip.

“In the original report, the sound measurement was between 37 (decibels) and 43 at this location — so not even close to the 45 (decibels) limit. But that said, and I would agree, the technical experts have said there’s no technical reason that this needs to be redone,” he said.

“But, I do agree with Commissioner Hanson in that this issue needs to be resolved, once and for all. And that’s the reason I specifically asked Miss Christenson if she would accept this as a legitimate test, and she said yes. And so, I’m going to support Commissioner Hanson’s motion, in the interest of resolving this issue, for once and for all,” he continued.

“I am absolutely convinced, I don’t question the initial study, but, and I suspect this study is going to show an even lower level, since it’s further away from the turbines, but if this is what it takes to resolve this issue, I’m willing to support Commissioner Hanson on that,” he concluded.

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