S.D. utility regulators open talks on whether to start requiring reports from wind projects

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Wind farms that need permits from the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission might need to start filing progress updates to the agency.

There was no decision on the proposal analyst Jon Thurber presented for commission staff Thursday.

The concept currently calls for monthly reports during construction and quarterly reports before and after.

“There’s been a number of lessons learned. We think we can improve our processes going forward,” Thurber said.

Brett Koenecke, a Pierre lawyer who often represents wind projects, said there might be better ways.

“Not a lot of love for this idea, as you can imagine. I don’t think the reports are going to create compliance,” Koenecke said. “The reports might portray or display the compliance. They’re not going to achieve it by themselves.”

Koenecke recalled reports required for the original Keystone oil pipeline that was built through South Dakota in 2008. A commission lawyer contacted him in 2012 that a report hadn’t been filed.

“Nobody noticed for months that report was missed,” Koenecke said.

Chris Nelson, the commission’s chairman, said the point of the PUC putting conditions in project permits is to protect the public.

“Some of those conditions are triggered by events that happen out in the field, by the project, and we don’t know,” Nelson told Koenecke. “Help me understand how we can manage that without some periodic update?”

Replied Koenecke, “I don’t know that anybody reads the reports.”

Earlier in the meeting, the commission engaged in a long discussion and decided that the Crowned Ridge II wind project in northeastern South Dakota needs to conduct at least one additional sound-level study, because of noise complaints from neighbors who don’t have the turbines on their properties.

Thurber said his goal for the proposed reports is they serve as “a tool to actively manage the permit. That’s what the hope is.”

Kristen Edwards, a staff attorney, said she reads every report the now-halted KXL oil pipeline project still files. Edwards added that she knows another staff members reads them too “because occasionally we discuss them.”

Koenecke clarified that his comment didn’t refer to commission staff. “My intention was to say third parties weren’t looking at them.” 

Nelson suggested a checklist of a project’s permit conditions might be adequate, with a date listed when a condition was met.

Thurber said some developers naturally do periodic communication on projects, while others are less forward and put staff in a reactionary position that can be frustrating to citizens. He said staff should be able to tell citizens what is happening on a project. 

Darla Pohlman Rogers, a Pierre lawyer who represents South Dakota Rural Electric Association and one of its members, Basin Electric, said the proposal seemed subjective regarding whether reports would be required from wind farms that were completed.

“It wasn’t real clear to me,” she said.

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