S.D. regulators tell wind farm to get ready for sound tests, amid COVID-19 travel restrictions

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Wind Turbine

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A 60-day window starts July 1 for a South Dakota wind-power farm to show that the combined sound from its 57 turbines doesn’t exceed 40 decibels at the homes of anyone who’s not participating in the project.

The state Public Utilities Commission voted 2-1 on Wednesday to continue requiring verification from Prevailing Wind Park. The project is in Bon Homme, Charles Mix and Hutchinson counties.

Section 42 of the commission’s permit for the project requires the sound level be checked at the homes of intervenors within 60 days after operation begins. The project recently was turned over to operation personnel.

A lawyer representing the park however has sought an extension because neither the project’s expert nor the commission’s expert can travel at this time, due to restrictions related to COVID-19.

The 40-decibel requirement for the park is the only instance where a South Dakota wind project must test for sound when operation begins, according to several commission members.

At other wind projects with South Dakota permits, people who believe turbines produce too much sound can only file complaints.

State commissioner Chris Nelson said Wednesday the 60-day compliance period for Prevailing Wind Park should start July 1, 2020, and the 120-day request should be denied.

Nelson also said granting the 60 days “in no way indemnifies” the park from any non-compliance that might be found.

Commission chairman Gary Hanson was alone in calling for Prevailing Wind to shut down turbines within one mile of intervenors’ homes until testing is ready to start.

“They haven’t been tested. They’re required to be tested,” Hanson said. “They have in fact not complied with the commission’s order.”

But Nelson and the third commissioner, Kristie Fiegen, opposed the shutdown.

“It’s COVID-19 and I just believe we have to give grace,” Fiegen said.

Replied Hanson, “I’d like to give grace to the non-participants.”

Intervenors who spoke Wednesday were Sherman Fuerniss of rural Delmont, Karen Jenkins of rural Tripp, Kelli Pazour of rural Wagner and Lisa Schoenfelder of rural Wagner.

Fuerniss said the turbine nearest him was tested about four weeks ago. He said some were tested as long as 14 weeks ago.

One of the intervenors who didn’t participate Wednesday was Gregg Hubner of rural Avon. He exchanged several messages in recent weeks with chairman Hanson.

“You had all kinds of excuses but you still chose to harm a lot of people in South Dakota so you could keep the multinational corporations, the lobbyists and the Governor happy and wading in tax dollars,” Hubner wrote Hanson. “But some day there will be a reckoning, not with us but with Someone else on a much higher plane than Room 413 at the Capital Building.”

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