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South Dakota utility regulators might get three months more for approving wind farms

PIERRE, S.D. – The state House agreed Thursday night on what’s now the fifth version of legislation affecting future development of wind and solar energy in South Dakota.

The two biggest changes in SB 15 are how much time the state Public Utilities Commission would get for permitting the two types of renewable electricity production.

The commission would have up to nine months to permit wind projects of 100 megawatts or more. State law currently allows six months. Commissioners wanted one year.

The other change would affect solar farms of 100 megawatts or more. The commission would likewise get nine months to permit them. Currently commissioners have 18 months.

The commission has handled many wind farms but only recently received the first application for a solar facility.

The House voted 47-17 to approve its version and send it back to the Senate for a decision whether to accept the latest changes.

Representative Mark Willadsen, a Sioux Falls Republican who generally doesn’t favor more government, said the measure has gone through “quite a journey.”

He said it would reduce “unnecessary burden” from state regulations while improving the process for citizens to participate.

Willadsen apologized for emails House members received from people looking at earlier versions. He said developers and regulators tried last year and couldn’t agree. The House Commerce and Energy Committee has devoted several two-hour blocs trying to work out differences this year.

“I think the bill is quite improved,” Willadsen said.

Representative John Mills, a Volga Republican, wondered what rights citizens would have under the latest proposal. Representative Timothy Johns, a Lead Republican and a retired state circuit judge, said people could still get a hearing from the PUC and could still appeal to circuit court.

“This is a significant issue in my district,” Mills said. “This is the one section that’s giving them heartburn.”

Representative Tim Rounds, a Pierre Republican who chairs the House committee, called for its passage. “This bill improves the system,” Rounds said.

Representative Caleb Finck, a Tripp Republican, said he lives in Bon Homme County where there’s been wind-farm development.

Finck said there would still be a public-input meeting early after an application is filed and people could still challenge in court. He said projects have become bigger.

When Finck campaigned for election last year, he said people told him, “We need more time.”