TYNDALL – A proposed wind farm near Avon remains alive, but investors aren’t sure they will proceed with it, according to the project manager.
Prevailing Winds project manager Roland Jurgens provided an update Monday to the Bon Homme County zoning board, which had requested his appearance to learn the project’s status.
“The project isn’t dead. We’ll re-evaluate the project, but there are no guarantees,” Jurgens told the Press & Dakotan.
The proposed project would construct 100 turbines covering 36,000 acres in Charles Mix and Bon Homme counties. The 201-megawatt wind farm would generate up to 860,000 megawatt-hours annually of electric power – the equivalent of 10 Bon Homme-Yankton rural electric cooperatives.
Prevailing Winds would develop the project, then sell it to a larger group of investors for the construction phase costing an estimated $300 million if built all at once, Jurgens said.
Last month, Prevailing Winds organizers pulled their state permit application at the last minute. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) recently agreed to the request for the application withdrawal.
Prevailing Winds’ legal motion sought the action without prejudice, meaning the wind farm organizers could return again without losing any rights or privileges.
“We’ll continue to move forward with a state permit,” Jurgens said Monday. “We just put it on hold for now.”
Prevailing Winds withdrew its permit application following a PUC public input meeting in Avon. An estimated 300 people packed shoulder-to-shoulder into the school gymnasium. The audience offered both supporting and opposing comments during a nearly five-hour meeting.
Sioux Falls attorney Lee Magnuson, representing the wind farm, said Prevailing Winds investors found considerable opposition to the project during the PUC hearing in Avon.
The motion to withdraw the application cites misinformation surrounding the project. The organizers say they plan “to better inform the community on the wind project and allow Prevailing Winds to revisit its options regarding the project.”
The investors took the controversy into account in making its decision, Jurgens said.
“We don’t want to split the community. That’s not good for the community,” he told the zoning board Monday. “But (the wind farm) is still out there. Our board is getting out more information on the project and seeing what we have for options.”
The Avon meeting drew some area residents who have been staunch opponents of the project from the beginning, Jurgens said. In addition, the opponents included landowners living elsewhere who had not previously spoken with Prevailing Winds, he said.
However, the Prevailing Winds project also saw a number of area residents who are strong supporters and spoke in favor of the project at the Avon meeting, Jurgens said.
In addition, he also noted the large number of people wearing pro-wind energy buttons at the Avon meeting but who didn’t take to the podium and make comments.
“I think those people didn’t feel comfortable speaking in front of the crowd,” he said. “They represent the silent majority.”
PUC chairman Chris Nelson has said the Prevailing Winds project, if it does come before the commission, will be decided on information and not neighbors’ sentiments, Jurgens said.
“The PUC decision is based on facts, not public opinion,” Jurgens said. “We’ll put together the facts and answer the (PUC) questions.”
Should Prevailing Winds investors move forward, the project could look different than the one now under consideration, Jurgens said.
The Bon Homme County zoning board asked about the possible changes in the wind farm’s location, size and other factors.
The wind farm could generate the same amount of power with fewer turbines by increasing the rotor size, Jurgens said.
“Technology is changing. When we first sat down, we were looking at 100-117 turbines. Then, (manufacturers) made a new set of turbines coming out,” he said. “If we have the right technology, we would work with 80 turbines and keep the generating capacity the same.”
Turbine technology continually changes, much like the computers, he said. “Years from now, I could come in and tell you that something is even more different (with the industry),” he said.
Zoning board member Mary Jo Bauder asked if the wind farm would change in its number of acres.
Jurgens responded that the larger turbines would each likely need more room to generate the needed wind power.
“As we go up in megawatt and size, we would not decrease the amount of physical ground that we would need,” he said. “The area is typically the same. We would spread things out.”
Zoning board member Tina Talsma asked about vibrations and other concerns raised by larger turbines.
Prevailing Winds would continue to follow all current state and county regulations, Jurgens said. Regardless of whether it pursues a state permit, the wind farm would need a conditional-use permit from Bon Homme County and a building permit from both Bon Homme and Charles Mix counties.
“No matter what we do, no matter what turbine we use, we have to abide by the rules and regulations that you (county officials) have and the state has. Those restrictions and controls are all there,” he said.
“The people who finance these projects want to meet those standards. They don’t want to see things get stalled. Nobody wants to spend this kind of money and have headaches.”
Jurgens told the Press & Dakotan that the Prevailing Winds facility would likely stay in the same proposed location because of the favorable winds and terrain.
In addition, he said the investors don’t intend the reduce the size of the Prevailing Winds projects or break it into smaller parts in order to fall below the threshold requiring PUC approval.
“The PUC permit and other regulations are governed by the size of the (generating capacity), not the number of turbines,” he said. “The number of megawatts won’t change for this project.”
The rotors would likely become larger, but the base wouldn’t significantly change, Jurgens said. He envisions rotors 19 feet in diameter, compared to the current 17 feet.
The turbine walls could be made thicker, but the base could only be expanded a certain amount to avoid transportation problems, he said.
A great deal of discussion surrounded the additional revenue that the wind project would generate for school districts. Jurgens explained the impact of the new state aid formula when it comes to outside revenue such as wind farms or traffic fines.
In particular, he spoke about the impact of the neighboring Beethoven wind farm on the Tripp-Delmont schools. He described the decisions which that school district needed to make in regards to the treatment of wind energy revenue.
Looking ahead, the Prevailing Winds project would want to qualify for production tax credits before starting production, he said. He also outlined the proposed project’s generating capacity and the markets for its electricity.
Jurgens doesn’t look for the fall elections to create major changes in the national energy policy, including wind power.
“As far as the presidential election, I don’t think this will have a dramatic impact on the industry,” he said.
However, he does look for wind energy’s growth during the last five years to continue into the future.
“Wind is one of the cheapest sources of energy,” he said. “I never imagined five years ago that they would be selling power from wind farms this cheap.”
Prevailing Winds chairman Ronnie Hornstra of Avon attended Monday’s meeting, as did about a half-dozen of the wind farm opponents. Neither side spoke during the meeting.
Jurgens emphasized he is “just a hired hand” and the Prevailing Winds board members make all final decisions regarding the project.
Jurgens works as a project manager for the Thorstad Companies, based in Dell Rapids.
In the end, a number of factors will influence the final fate of the Prevailing Winds project, Jurgens told the Press & Dakotan.
“You have the political (environment), the power needs, the price of natural gas, the community feelings and the taxes in South Dakota,” he said.
“Every factor is probably part of it and will affect this project.”
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