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Rural Newell area eyed for proposed wind energy

BELLE FOURCHE – Approximately 40,000 acres of privately owned land located an estimated 10 miles northeast of Newell are slated to house turbines and the structures needed for wind power if the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approves Wind Quarry Operations LLC’s application for a permit.

The request was made to the commission May 27. According to state law, the commission has up to six months to decide if they will deny or approve the request. Several years of research have gone into choosing a location for the wind energy site which was previously slated to go on Bureau of Land Management land closer to Bear Butte.

The public hearing for the proposed project was held at the Newell School’s Multipurpose Room on Thursday evening. A number of community members were in attendance to hear both what the commissioners had to say and what the officers of Wind Quarry planned for the area.

“No decisions are being made tonight or in the immediate future,” State of South Dakota Public Utilities Commission Chairman Chris Nelson said.

The proposed project would include approximately 45 wind turbines, associated access roads, a new collector substation and operational and maintenance facility, and associated transmission interconnection facilities. The project is intended to interconnect with the commission line of Western Area Power Administration Maurine to Rapid City, which extends through the project area. Each turbine could generate 2.3 megawatts of power. According to the PUC, 1 megawatt of wind energy will power 300 homes for a year.

The project would generate utility scale electric power for residential, commercial, and industrial customers; however, at this time there is not a signed purchase agreement in place for the power the 80-meter-high towers would generate. With the demand for power on the rise, the executives of the Wind Quarry indicated there is a need for the power and now that they have a better handle on what the costs will be to generate the power in the Newell area, and now that they are further along in the processes seeking all the levels of permit approval, they can move ahead with marketing the output.

An estimated 200 short-term jobs along with six long-term jobs would be generated if the application for a permit is approved.

Concerns were voiced from a community member about the bird kill rate. The presenters said the highest cause for bird deaths is from the domestic cats.

“Cats don’t kill our huge migratory birds,” the woman said. She added that every year from a 10 day to a two-week period of time, thousands of cranes go through the area north of Newell.

A conservation plan should address the migratory bird population, but the cranes that pass through are not the endangered whooping cranes, the company’s biologist said. He added that he has been studying the area for two years and the cranes the pass through are Sandhill cranes.

“It’s a wonderful project so I am speaking in favor of it and my wife feels the same way,” said Newell business owner Ron Sjodin.

A nine- month turn-around time is projected for the Newell project once the permit approvals have been acquired; however, a 108-turbine project was constructed in five months in the dead of winter in eastern South Dakota

“It is a pretty fascinating process we actually have a loop of how these are done. One crew starts the excavation for the foundation, one crew comes in drills the pilings down into the lower bedrock, then the crews come in to weld the rebar. When that’s done the concrete folks come in and again it’s a team, each step is a team. Once the excavators finish at one turbine location, the next day they start on a new turbine location its kind of a progression,” said Pat Omeara Wind Quarry Operations, LLC executive.

“We are really excited about the project,” said Gary and Beth Howard, landowners who are slated to have a turbine on their land.