September 22, 2018
South Dakota

PUC will let witnesses testify from afar on wind-farm case

By Bob Mercer, American News Correspondent | September 21, 2018 |

PIERRE – The state Public Utilities Commission ruled Friday that opponents could subpoena information from county governments and witnesses could testify by telephone or videoconference when a wind-farm project comes up for a permit hearing next month.

Prevailing Wind Park wants the commission’s permission to construct 61 turbines on 50,364 acres of private ground between Avon, Tripp and Wagner in Bon Homme, Charles Mix and Hutchinson counties. The four-day hearing opens at 9 a.m. Oct. 9.

“The proposed project would have a major impact on their lives,” said Joel Rische, a lawyer representing opponents.

The commission docketed the Prevailing Wind application May 31. State law gives the commission six months to decide whether to grant a wind permit.

Commissioners tried to change the law to one year, but the measure died at its first legislative hearing Feb. 14.

This week, commissioners voted 2-1 to let Kelli Pazour of rural Wagner intervene late. One reason for the leniency was the six-month deadline.

Chairwoman Kristie Fiegen referred to the tight timetable again Friday during discussion about witness testimony, calling the deadline “frustrating.”

She and commissioner Gary Hanson voted in favor of remote testimony, while commissioner Chris Nelson opposed it. “I see this more as a fairness issue,” Fiegen said.

Mollie Smith, a lawyer for Prevailing Wind, argued commissioners needed to be able to see witnesses to completely judge their testimonies.

Commissioners split the same 2-1 over letting interveners subpoena county government officials. Nelson said state law doesn’t let the commission look at processes counties use.

“That’s beyond any authority we’ve been given,” Nelson said.

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