AVON – A proposed 201-megawatt wind farm faces its next challenge this week, as state officials hold a hearing in the vicinity of the proposed Prevailing Winds site.
The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will hold a public input hearing at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Avon school gymnasium, 210 Pine Street. All three PUC members – chairman Chris Nelson, Kristie Fiegen and Gary Hanson – plan to attend.
“The purpose of this hearing (Wednesday) evening is to provide information to the public about the proposed project and to hear public comments about the project” Nelson told the Press & Dakotan.
“Interested persons have the right to present their views and comments regarding the application, and we want to encourage (audience members) to do so. No decisions will be made Wednesday night or in the immediate future.”
The proposed wind farm has generated controversy, with particular opposition among some neighbors. The facility will be located on approximately 36,000 acres in Bon Homme and Charles Mix counties, on the Dry Choteau Creek Coteau.
Prevailing Winds LLC filed an application June 28 for a facility permit, leading to this week’s public input hearing, Nelson said. The Avon site was chosen because of its proximity to the proposed wind farm and for the convenience of area residents who could be affected by the facility.
The proposed project includes 100 wind turbines, associated access roads, an underground electrical power collector system, a collector substation, an operations and maintenance facility, and associated transmission inter-connection facilities.
The proposed project would generate up to 860,000 megawatt-hours annually of utility scale electric power for residential, commercial and industrial consumers within South Dakota and the Southwest Power Pool.
Bon Homme County officials will be watching the outcome of the PUC hearing and final decision, according to Bon Homme County zoning director Eric Elsberry.
“But we won’t be a part of the Avon hearing. That’s strictly the PUC,” he said
If the proposed wind farm clears all other hurdles, Bon Homme County would need to give final approval to the project, Elsberry said.
Bon Homme County has implemented a section in its wind energy zoning ordinance entitled Article 17, Elsberry said. The action was taken in response to the Beethoven wind farm previously started in the Tripp area, he said.
Wednesday’s hearing will follow a formal procedure, Nelson said.
“We’ll begin the hearing by having the representatives of Prevailing Winds make a presentation to explain their proposed project,” he said. “Following that presentation, we’ll open it up (to the audience). This is their opportunity to make any comments and to ask questions. We strongly encourage members of the public to present their views.”
The current parties in the case are Prevailing Winds and the PUC, but others can file to become a formal party, Nelson said. Those seeking such status must make written application to the PUC by 5 p.m. Aug. 29. The form is also available on the PUC website or by contacting the PUC.
“I’d like to emphasize to everyone, however, that you don’t need to become a part to the docket in order for your voice to be heard by the commission,” he said. “The reason we’re (at Avon) is to hear comments, what people have to say, and concerns about the project.”
The PUC will accept comments in writing from anyone right up to the time of the decision, Nelson said. The written comments can take the form of mail, personal delivery or email, he said.
Prevailing Winds must meet certain PUC criteria for its permit, Nelson said.
“For its permit to be approved, our law says Prevailing Winds must show that the proposed wind energy facility will comply with all applicable laws and rules,” he said.
In addition, Prevailing Winds must show the project won’t pose a threat of serious injury to the environment or the social and economic conditions of inhabitants or expected inhabitants in the siting area.
In addition, Prevailing Winds must show the wind farm won’t substantially impair the health, safety or welfare of the inhabitations. Also, the wind farm must not unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region, with consideration given to the view of governing bodies of affected local units of government.
“Based on these factors, the (PUC) will decide whether the permit for the project should be granted, denied or granted with terms, conditions or modifications of the construction, operation or maintenance of the facilities as the PUC finds appropriate,” Nelson said.
Follow this week’s public input hearing, the PUC may schedule a formal evidentiary hearing to consider any issues raised by any intervening party, PUC staff or the PUC members themselves.
At the formal hearing, all parties have the opportunity to appear, present evidence and cross-examine the other parties’ witnesses and to exercise all other rights.
The current law requires the PUC to issue its decision within six months of the application being filed, Nelson said.
“This means our decision will be made by the end of the year,” he added.
Parties have the right to appeal the final decision to the appropriate circuit court within 30 days after the PUC files a notice of its decision, Nelson said.
The application is on file in the Bon Homme County and Charles Mix County auditors’ offices in Tyndall and Lake Andes, respectively, and in the PUC office in Pierre. The application and all other documents in this case can be accessed at www.puc.sd.gov.
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