PIERRE – A wind farm in Clark County that could have up to 120 turbines received a state permit Friday.
But one of the additional requirements was an outside party must be selected to field any complaints about the project from landowners, neighbors, local officials or others.
The decision marked the first time the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission placed such a condition on a wind farm.
The commission staff made the recommendation based on the conduct of Minnesota-based developer Geronimo Energy.
“It is disconcerting to me,” Commissioner Gary Hanson said about the company’s level of candor during the permitting process.
Several oil pipelines through South Dakota have a similar third-party requirement.
Pipeline companies forced easements across private land from unwilling sellers through the adverse process of eminent domain.
Commissioner Chris Nelson emphasized the wind project is different because all landowners were willing participants.
But Nelson took Hanson’s side after hearing an explanation from a PUC staff attorney.
“It would just be our eyes on the ground,” Kristen Edwards said.
Edwards said the commission’s public-affairs staff wasn’t large enough to handle the many phone calls she expected during the coming months.
Betsy Engelking, a vice president for Geronimo Energy, said the company has “no interest” in being part of an unhappy community.
“We also want to make sure that things are taken care of,” Engelking said.
The Crocker project is named for a local community. A large transmission line also is planned.
In testimony prepared for the commission hearing last month, Engelking said there is a contract to sell 150 megawatts of electricity to an undisclosed company.
There has been discussion regarding sale of another 50 megawatts to a different buyer, she said.
Nelson added his list of changes including a condition that Geronimo or any other owner deposit cash up front into a decommissioning fund to someday take down the towers.
The $5,000 per tower must be paid before construction starts, followed by further payments.
Nelson called it “solid business planning.”
Another Nelson condition was lighting the towers at night for aircraft. He acknowledged the Clark County Commission also had made lighting a requirement.
Geronimo originally wanted flexibility to move any tower 1,000 feet in any direction. The commission staff negotiated the distance to 325 feet.
Nelson and Chairwoman Kristie Fiegen rejected Hanson’s attempt to further reduce it to 150 feet.
This marked the second try for the project. The first one failed when the company wouldn’t provide specific locations for the turbines.
Another permit condition Friday was the company must pay the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service twice the per-acre price of land where towers are planned on federal grassland easements.
The federal agency can then pay for replacement acres.
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