PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Work could begin in the coming months on another wind farm in South Dakota. This time it will be in the middle of the state out in Hyde County, and there doesn’t appear to be any controversy.
The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission gave a green light Tuesday to a settlement reached on most issues between its staff and developers of the Triple H project.
Several matters remain unresolved, such as ice throw from the turbine blades and how close whooping cranes must be to trigger a shutdown of one or more of the turbines.
An evidentiary hearing is scheduled for June 25. A decision could be made that day. No opponents have intervened.
Commissioners agreed Tuesday to remove a requirement that the developer, ENGIE North America, pay for a public liaison officer.
Commissioner Kristie Fiegen said she wasn’t certain a liaison was necessary in this instance.
Said Commissioner Chris Nelson, “I was never supportive of that in the first place, so I’m fine taking it out of this one.”
Nelson added, “I want to be clear we are not granting a permit today and the issue of whether we grant the permit is still open.”
Fiegen praised the developer, the commission staff and Hyde County officials.
The county decision to require turbines be at least a half-mile from any private residence made the process easier, she said.
ENGIE North America applied for the permit February 12. The company, based at Santa Barbara, California, estimated total costs at $290 million to $300 million.
The commission had six months under state law to reach a decision. That timetable changes to nine months for permits filed on or after July 1 under a new, broader state law.
Triple H will generate up to 250 megawatts of electricity from up to 92 turbines in four townships spread three miles southwest of Highmore.
The company plans to sell 150 megawatts to Walmart and 48 megawatts to a confidential institutional buyer. The remainder will be offered into the market.
Commissioners held a public input hearing March 19 at Hyde County Memorial Auditorium for local comments.
Nick Nemec, a farmer from the Holabird area who will lease land to the company for one of the towers, told the commission he supports the project but also expressed some concern about siting.
“I hope ENGIE North America will consult with land owners concerning the location of access roads, so the roads can be placed in locations that provide the least inconvenience to the land owners and the least long-term interruption of existing farming practices,” Nemec testified.
As many as 200 workers could be needed during construction. Fifteen to 20 would work on a year-round basis after completion.
Among the three dozen conditions agreed upon Tuesday were requirements that the company file a bird- and bat-conservation plan before starting construction and agree to two years of independent monitoring of avian and bat mortality after construction is complete.
The company had also agreed to shut down one or more of the turbines during spring and fall migrations of whooping cranes if one of the rare birds is spotted within one mile of a turbine site.
Staff analyst Jon Thurber said a two-mile distance was the minimum in another wind docket where turbines were planned on property that fell under federal environment review.
Thurber said the state Game, Fish and Parks Department was consulted in the instance of the Triple H permit. He said the department was willing to accept the one-mile trigger.
Nelson said he could accept one mile, but Fiegen said she wanted two miles. That would leave Gary Hanson, the commission’s chairman, as the potential tie-breaking vote.
Nelson noted the sale of electricity to Walmart was a first for a South Dakota wind farm. The power would flow from the Triple H complex over the transmission grid to Walmart facilities outside the state.
“To the best of Staff’s knowledge, the Commission has received no negative comments from nonparticipating residents near the Project Area at either the Public Input Hearing or submitted to the Commission. In this respect, this docket is unlike recent wind energy facility dockets before the Commission,” the staff recommendation said.