State regulators OK South Dakota’s first commercial solar-power project

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota’s first commercial project for producing electricity from the sun’s rays came up for a decision Monday.

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission approved state-level permitting for its construction and operation. The vote was 3-0.

Lookout Solar Park would be on 810 acres of federal trust land allotted to Lois Wilson Rapp in Oglala Lakota County, in the northwest corner of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Owner of the project is a German corporation, Wircon GmbH.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs has yet to approve the project agreement.

State commission member Kristie Fiegen added a condition Monday requiring that a copy of the BIA approval be filed before commercial operation starts.

“This is new for us,” Fiegen said.

Commissioner Chris Nelson said the project has “a lot of unique components” including that the lines would run underground to preserve the view.

Oglala Sioux Tribal President Julian Bear Runner backs the project, as did previous tribal administrations.

In a February 27, 2019, letter, Bear Runner stated his continued support:

“I remain confident that your project will help others along their way in seeking to promote renewable energy on the Pine Ridge Reservation. I would like to see our Tribe convert the decaying fossil fuel economy into a new, green economy that is environmentally sustainable, economically secure and socially just, for the ultimate betterment of our future generations.”

The developer plans to invest $100 million in the panels and $15 million in the connection system. The plan calls for 500,000 solar panels at the site about 22 miles east of Buffalo Gap.

They would connect to a Western Area Power Administration transmission network in Custer County. The 11 miles of underground cable would include drilling beneath the Cheyenne River and the Angostura canal.

The 110-megawatt facility is expected by commission staff to start operating in the second quarter of 2021.

WAPA and BIA did environmental assessments of the project and found no significant impacts.

Project president Christian Bohn and commission staff attorney Amanda Reiss signed an agreement on permit conditions January 21.

One condition says the project will follow BIA conditions for eventually ending production of electricity, a process known as decommissioning.

Members of the Rapp family hosting the project agreed to waive a decommission bond. They are aware an engineering firm estimated there could be a $1.7 million shortfall for decommissioning after recovering the salvage value.

An attorney representing the project, Shani Harmon, said the company was still seeking a buyer for the electricity.

Fall River County Commission chairman Paul Nabholz is a member of the commission’s local-review committee. He told the commission Monday the project “pretty much satisfied” the local committee.

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