Unexpectedly, a S.D. wind farm is in a tight spot

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Wind Turbine

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A new wind energy facility in northeastern South Dakota faces a substantial financial penalty if the project doesn’t start before 2019 ends.

That’s why the state Public Utilities Commission has decided to hold a special meeting, either December 30 or 31, on a temporary waiver that Crowned Ridge Wind wants.

The developer, NextEra Energy Resources, has agreed to sell the electricity to Northern States Power, also known as Xcel Energy.

The contract however calls for a penalty of $75,000 per day if the project in Codington and Grant counties isn’t running before January 1.

The difficulty is Crowned Ridge needs the commission to temporarily suspend one of the permit requirements.

That condition calls for low-noise tailing-edge attachments on the blades of all 87 turbines.

Only eight are done. It’s now too cold for workers to do the others.

The surface temperature of the blades dropped too low back in mid-October for the installations to continue.

A lawyer for the project told commissioners Friday he didn’t learn until recently the work had stopped two months earlier.

“Clearly there was a communication gap, and I’m not backing away from it,” Brian Murphy said.

Crowned Ridge filed the waiver request December 13. The packet said installation wouldn’t be complete until late spring or early summer of 2020.

The developer promised to shut down six turbines if wind speed exceeds nine meters per second, until noise-reduction installations are finished on those six and on eight others.

A map shows the six are east of Interstate 29 between South Shore and Waverly.

Intervenors meanwhile want 10 days so they can consult with their sound expert.

Commission chairman Gary Hanson proposed waiting until the next scheduled meeting. That’s on January 7.

“I do believe this falls under the ‘We do not know what we do not know,”‘ Hanson said.

Vice chairman Chris Nelson told the company’s officials and lawyers in the meeting room they should have asked for the waiver two months ago. He told the interveners on the phone they needed to produce meaningful information rather than using the time as a delaying tactic.

Nelson suggested the meeting should be December 30 or 31.

The third commissioner, Kristie Fiegen, asked the company what the difference between the two dates would mean to NextEra. Murphy replied that the contract with Northern States called for a daily $75,000 penalty if commercial operation didn’t start this year.

Fiegen then asked the commission staff members for their preference between the two sets of dates.

The wrinkle there is state government offices generally were set to close starting at 5 p.m. Friday and remain dark through 8 a.m. Thursday for the Christmas holiday.

“We can make it work,” staff attorney Kristen Edwards told Fiegen.

Commission staff concluded the sound-levels difference would be imperceptible.

Commissioner Hanson asked whether Crowned Ridge knew whether Northern States would impose the penalty. “We have not reached out to Northern States Power,” Murphy replied.

But, Murphy added, as a long-time regulatory lawyer he would expect a commission to want a company to seek “a claw-back” to protect ratepayers.

Hanson said he would “hold tight” on January 7 for the meeting. But he lost, as Nelson and Fiegen voted for December 30 or 31.

“This places an unnecessary burden on intervenors’ rights,” Hanson said.

Nelson responded that the intervenors were getting the 10 days they wanted.

“This is a compromise,” Fiegen said. “I was ready to vote today. At least we’re giving them more time.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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