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Official: Prevailing Winds Park a ‘go’; New wind farm to be constructed in Avon and Tripp sreas

AVON – During the last two days, the final pieces have fallen into place for a proposed 200-megawatt wind farm in the Avon-Tripp area, the project developers say.

The Prevailing Wind Park project will cost an estimated $240 million. The wind farm will consist of up to 100 turbines located in Charles Mix, Bon Homme and Hutchinson counties.

“This project is a ‘go’ for us,” said Prevailing Winds LLC board member Erik Johnson. “At best case, we hope to start construction within 9 to 18 months and be finished in spring 2019.”

Two major developments came together at once, Johnson told the Press & Dakotan.

“We got final notice (Monday) from the Southwest Power Pool that we can put in the 200 megawatts (on the transmission line). But there is much less that needs to be mitigated than originally thought,” he said.

“Because of that, we can bid the power for less. Late (Monday), we reached an agreement with someone who wants to buy the power. We have a closing date during the first half of January.”

However, Johnson declined to name the power purchaser or the type of operator.

“The agreement has been closed, and the company buying the power wants the press release to come out in the middle of January,” he said.

The operation requires a three-way partnership, Johnson said.

“As the developers, Prevailing Winds works with permits, interconnections and power purchase agreements, and we arrange the financing,” he said. “We sell the development plan to a power company, in this case sPower (Sustainable Power Group), and they execute the plan. And now we have the purchaser of the power who will be announced.”

Prevailing Winds is also moving quickly into meeting another target, Johnson said.

“We have now surpassed 30,000 acres leased for the project,” he said. “To make it really cost effective, we would need to be in the range of 33,000 to 35,000 acres. We would have 40,000 acres if we had everything we needed, but we can move ahead with what we have so far.”

Johnson believes the developers may come very close to hitting the 40,000 acres.

“We have a number of fence sitters who are waiting to see,” he said. “But since this is a real thing that is happening, we expect to start seeing more commitments later this week and into next week.”

B&H Wind developed the Beethoven wind farm located in about the same area. The Prevailing Winds developers include many of the same individuals, but the two wind farms are different projects.

“The Prevailing Wind Park turbines will be located to the east, west and south of the Beethoven wind farm, in the Avon and Tripp area,” Johnson said.

“The FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) requires a one-mile setback between wind facilities. None of the new turbines are within one mile of an existing Beethoven wind turbine.”

This week, Prevailing Winds president Ronnie Hornstra and Johnson met with the Bon Homme County planning and zoning board on Monday and the Bon Homme County commissioners on Tuesday.

“We met with the Bon Homme County Commission at their regular meeting,” Johnson said. “Ronnie gave a presentation on the progress we’re making, and we answered their questions and concerns.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners voted to keep the current wind ordinance by a vote of three in favor, one opposed and one abstaining, according to Auditor Tammy Brunken.

The breakdown on the commissioners’ votes wasn’t immediately available.

The B&H and Prairie Winds developers have followed a long regulatory process, Johnson said.

“First, you need the environmental studies from state and federal agencies, to see if there is any potential harm for threatened or endangered species of animals or birds,” he said.

“You need to have extensive wind data with meteorological (MET) towers. We’ve had five towers in place, and we’ve had very good wind indications. We’ve also had five MET towers in place since 2009, even before these latest ones, giving us a record of those wind speeds.”

The Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), a federal regulatory agency, held an open house last week in Tripp as part of the environmental permit process for Prairie Wind Park.

Prairie Winds developers will also work with other entities, Johnson said.

“We’ll get all the permits required by the state and counties,” he said. “Some permits take time, others go quickly.”

He commended District III Planning and Development office in Yankton, particularly Brian McGinnis, for assistance with the project.

Johnson pointed to the improving wind technology, with the local turbines running about 48 percent of what is considered total 24/7 efficiency – up from 46 percent three years ago.

While things fell together quickly for the Prevailing Wind Park, the process has been long in coming, Johnson said.

“In March, it will have been three years of work on the project. Power transmission systems are really complicated activities,” he said.

“As of now, our timeline isn’t complete, but we’re optimistic that we will be moving along during the next few months.”