South Dakota’s first solar-power park remains a potential go in Indian Country

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A German company wanting to build South Dakota’s first solar-electricity park and the landholder in Oglala Lakota County whose 820 acres would host the project met Tuesday with the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.

The three-member panel will decide sometime in the weeks ahead whether to permit construction and operation. “I’m not going to say a specific date. I’ll just let the staff bring it to us when it’s ready,” the commission’s chairman, Gary Hanson, said. 

Lynn Rapp said she received word Monday the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs had given final approval. The 110-megawatt project will be on land the federal government holds in trust for her family as Oglala Sioux members at the western edge of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Rapp said she understood the ramifications of letting Lookout Solar Park’s ultimate owner, Wircon GmbH, proceed on the property without posting a decommissioning bond for when the project someday needs to come down or be replaced.

“I just want to say this is the first lease the Bureau of Indian Affairs has done in the United States of this type,” Rapp said. The family’s succeeding generations would eventually take over the solar operation, she said.

PUC member Kristie Feigen said the BIA agreement should be filed with the docket.  

Wircon officials Christian Bohn and Steffen Steinel appeared in person before the commission, while Shani Harmon, a Washington, D.C., lawyer representing the company, participated by telephone.

A collector system would route the electricity to a high-voltage Western Area Power Administration line in Custer County.

The developer hasn’t reached an agreement yet to sell the electricity, according to Bohn. He said the company expects approval in April for the electricity to be accepted onto the regional power grid.

Harmon said the initial lease for the park is for 25 years and two additional 10-year periods for a total of 45 years. BIA regulations don’t allow leases longer than 50 years, she said.

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