BELLE FOURCHE – Butte County people are curious why Black Hills Power dropped plans to develop a wind farm in Butte County and the news Tuesday came as a surprise.
County Commission Chairman Steve Smeenk said he first heart of it from the Butte County Post when they called for a reaction.
Eileen Miller, one of the landowners involved, said early Tuesday afternoon, “I just read it in the paper.”
Smeenk, who also is on the Butte Electric cooperative board, said he would put the issue on next Tuesday’s commission agenda. His first thought was whether to ask BHP to talk with commissioners or whether the company would take the initiative to talk to county officials.
“I guess I would be surprised that they pulled out from under it,” he said. “I would have kind of assumed that a big company like that would have done due diligence and have all their ducks in a row.”
BHP vice president for operations Chuck Loomis met with commissioners about a month ago, but did not suggest that the company would drop it if the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission didn’t decide officially that the project would allow the utility to meet the state’s voluntary renewable objective.
Commissioners didn’t take any action on the planned wind farm because there is no countywide zoning.
If the project continues, builders likely would need a haul road agreement with the county because of potential damage to county roads from trucking in parts for the huge windmills.
Other than that, the county would have no direct control over the project.
Miller said, “I guess we’ll just wait and find out what the next step is.”
She said she and her husband Mike don’t hear much about the project even though a lot of people they know are aware that their ranch north of Belle Fourche would be part of the project.
“Most people we hear from are excited about,” she said. “But I don’t know. It’s not something I really talk about.”
Miller added that she doesn’t know what implications there might be for the lease her family has with the wind farm developers. “I guess I’ll read the paper and find out.”
By Northwest South Dakota standards, Smeenk has family ranching operations near the proposed wind farm.
He said, “The benefit would be the jobs and construction.”
One or two local full time jobs would be a benefit for the county and probably Belle Fourche as well.
“It’s a good alternative source of energy and there would have been benefits for Butte County and hopefully it would have led to more construction,” Smeenk said. “But it’s not the total answer to the energy problems. Contrary to what some people believe, the wind doesn’t always blow in South Dakota.”
Smeenk said Black Hills Power had not asked for direct support for the project. “Maybe a guy should have supported it more.”
Wind is a good possibility, he said, but he said on a personal basis, he thinks the nation should do more to develop clean coal plants too. Neither wind nor coal need to be seen as dangerous to the environment.
“California found out about it years ago,” he said. “If you don’t build more generation and don’t keep up the infrastructure, you have blackouts.”
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