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Utilities regulators will ponder waiver sought for Crocker Wind Farm

PIERRE – The law firm for a company that wants to build a large wind-electricity project in Clark County now wants a waiver from state government regulators.

Lawyer Kara Semmler previously worked for the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission as a staff attorney.

She and Brett Koenecke now represent Crocker Wind Farm.

The commission scheduled consideration of the waiver for Tuesday, Dec. 5.

The project application was filed July 25. State law requires the commission to reach decision within six months.

The commission decided Oct. 25 to deny the application. One reason was company officials filed multiple possible layouts for wind turbine sites.

Other reasons included the company’s legal challenge to setback requirements established by Clark County officials and the company’s continuing negotiations with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials over some of the turbine sites.

Semmler said in a Nov. 9 letter to the commission that the company is willing to waive the six-month decision period so that all sides could save money.

She offered a new timetable calling for the commission to hold a hearing in April 2018 followed by a commission decision and order by May 15, 2018.

Semmler said the company now accepts the county’s setbacks and submitted a single map showing 132 of the possible turbine locations.

Still unresolved is how many of the 15 turbines proposed on federal grassland-easement sites will get clearance from the federal agency.

Reece Almond, a Sioux Falls lawyer, represents interveners in the docket. He asked the commission to reject the waiver request.

Almond said the Crocker project should start a second time with a complete application. He noted the company responded to seven sets of additional inquiries from the commission’s staff.

“While it is true Crocker will have to incur additional costs, that problem is of Crocker’ s own doing,” Almond said in a Nov. 28 letter to the commission. “Had Crocker, on July 25, 2017, submitted a complete application, it would not need to incur these additional costs.”

Almond said none of the five previous layouts included turbine number 56 and the company doesn’t explain what happened to 26 sites that were being considered by the federal agency but now aren’t in the final plan.

“Considering a wind energy project of this size is not something that should be rushed,” he told the commission.

Commission staff attorney Amanda Reiss wrote to the commission Nov. 29 saying she could accept the company’s waiver and timetable, but she also noted state law is silent on public notice requirements.

Reiss called the commission’s attention to a 2013 docket where the commission required another round of public notice and held a second public-input meeting.

Reiss recommended that the commission require further public notice and another public-input meeting. She also suggested the commission should seek agreement from all parties in the matter before granting the waiver.

The commission members are Gary Hanson, Chris Nelson and chairwoman Kristie Fiegen.