PIERRE, S.D. – Fourteen citizens – two from the company in favor, and 12 everyday people against – watched the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission grant a permit Tuesday to Prevailing Wind Park.
The controversial wind farm checker-boards through an area where Bon Homme, Charles Mix and Hutchinson counties come together in the south-central part of the state.
The vote was 3-0. Commissioner Chris Nelson said he weighed competing interests of the two sides. “That’s the balance we are working through here today,” he said.
Nelson added several conditions to more strongly protect opposing landowners, including a requirement for sound-level testing at their residences within 60 days of full operation.
“This project will change the complexion of that area forever – at least 30 years, if not forever,” Nelson said.
Chairwoman Kristie Fiegen and Commissioner Gary Hanson added several conditions too. One from Fiegen addressed shadow flicker from the spinning blades. Another from Hanson called for at least two years of bird mortality reports after construction.
Commission attorney Kristen Edwards said the many conditions – they began at nine pages and grew – were essential.
Interveners opposed to the project sat together on one side of the room. Their core argument was the project developer didn’t meet its burden of proof on topics, such as the effects of shadow flicker, sound levels and setback distances, on people who live near the proposed turbine sites.
The project covers about 47,000 acres of privately-owned lands. In rough terms, the area is bordered by SD 50 on the south, US 18 on the north and SD 37 on the east and lays Avon and Tripp.
His voice shaking, opponent Sherman Fuerniss of rural Delmont said he’s been accused of not having the area’s best interest in mind. He said he now takes his family to church 20 miles away.
“This will remain a life-long rift in the community,” Fuerniss said.
Each person who spoke Tuesday received five minutes. The state commission had six months to reach a decision on the permit after receiving the construction application for a wind energy facility May 30. The six-month limit is set by state law 49-41B-25.
The federal Western Area Power Administration hasn’t completed an environmental assessment on the project.
The project would interconnect with WAPA’s Utica substation. Basin Electric Power Cooperative has agreed to purchase the electricity. The project would generate approximately 220 megawatts. The developers wanted approval for 61 turbines.
There could be as many as 245 workers during construction. Going forward, eight to 10 employees would operate and maintain the system.
Landowners would receive $1.2 million annually from the park. Counties, school districts and townships would receive an estimated $743,000 annually in taxes from it.
The project owner, Salt Lake City-based sPower, has wind and solar projects in eight states. Project attorney Lisa Agrimonti of Minneapolis, sitting with one of the developers, said there’s no evidence the current disagreement over the project would continue in the future.
“There are no human health effects shown in this record,” Agrimonti told the commission.
Nelson said he was “disappointed” the interveners didn’t produce testimony from a physician about sound effects.
Fiegen said six months was too short of time frame to deal with such a complicated issue.
“I so wish I had more tools in the toolbox,” Fiegen said. “Today I have to make my decision based on the tools I have.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding