Two brothers have proposed a wind farm that could become the first in western South Dakota.
John O’Meara, of Indiana, and Patrick O’Meara, of Colorado, are the chief operating officer and chief executive officer, respectively, of Wind Quarry LLC. The company has submitted an application to the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission to build a $210 million, 45-turbine, 103-megawatt project about 10 miles northeast of Newell.
It would be Wind Quarry’s first project. John O’Meara, a chemist, said the company is the brainchild of his brother, a family-practice physician who’s had a lifelong interest in renewable energy.
“We decided to work together to develop a project somewhere in the West to bring more renewable energy sources online,” John said. “It’s really kind of a personal passion.”
There are 485 wind turbines in South Dakota with a total production capacity of 803 megawatts, according to the American Wind Energy Association, but easier access to electrical transmission lines in eastern South Dakota has kept the wind industry almost entirely confined to that half of the state.
A database maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that only three wind turbines in South Dakota are west of the Missouri River. There are two small ones in Pennington County, and a 0.75-megawatt turbine on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation.
A 30-megawatt project is proposed for construction north of Belle Fourche by PNE Wind, but few details are publicly available because the project is below the 100-megawatt threshold for a state permit. Excavation work began at the site last winter to secure benefits from a one-year congressional extension of the production tax credit for wind farms, but calls to PNE Wind were not answered Monday and a representative of the Butte County Equalization Office said no further information has surfaced since a building permit was granted late last year.
Wind Quarry’s project, meanwhile, is officially described as the Willow Creek Wind Energy Facility. It would straddle U.S. Highway 212 and span 62.5 square miles of privately owned land in Butte County. The turbines would be 440 feet tall from the ground to the tip of a vertically extended blade.
John O’Meara said his company has lease agreements with all the affected landowners, who number about 15, but he declined to disclose further details of the agreements. He also declined to disclose details of the project’s financing, which he said is not yet in place.
The electricity generated by the wind farm would be moved onto an existing 115-kilovolt Western Area Power Administration transmission line that runs through the proposed project area. O’Meara said the brothers are seeking a buyer for the electricity.
The project is expected to create up to 200 jobs during the peak of construction activities, plus six long-term jobs.
The application mentions that the project was originally intended to be 10 miles southwest of the eventually selected site. The move was made for two reasons: to move the project farther away from eagles that nest along the Belle Fourche River; and to reduce the project’s visibility from Bear Butte, which is a state park and religious site for some Native Americans.
At the currently proposed site, the nearest wind tower would be 26 miles from the butte.
The wind farm application is the first received by the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission since the Legislature and governor approved legislation in March that lowers taxes on wind farms.
When asked if the legislation influenced the project, John O’Meara said the factors that attracted the brothers to South Dakota and Butte County are the wind, the availability of a transmission line and the treeless range land.
“It’s the perfect topography for a wind power development,” O’Meara said.
No projections are available regarding the tax revenue that the project would generate for local and state government, but those projections are expected to surface during the PUC consideration of Wind Quarry’s application.
The next step in the PUC process is a 6:30 p.m. July 9 public hearing at the Newell School Multipurpose Room. The hearing will include a presentation by Wind Quarry LLC and an opportunity for public questions and comments.
The PUC has six months from the May 27 filing of the application to grant or deny the permit, or grant it with conditions, and the O’Mearas hope to have the wind farm operational by December 2017.
Paul Bachman, executive director of the South Dakota Wind Energy Association, said the application is an encouraging sign for the future of wind energy in western South Dakota.
“Some states have oil, and some places get lots more rain than we do,” Bachman said. “Western South Dakota doesn’t have a lot of that, but there’s an awful lot of wind. It is a valuable resource that we’re not developing right now.”
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