South Dakota regulators approved most of a settlement Tuesday for constructing another wind-power farm.
The 155-megawatt Tatanka Ridge project plans 56 towers in the Deuel County townships of Blom, Brandt, Grange, Hidewood and Scandinavia townships, located near Toronto and Brandt. The owner is Avangrid Renewables Inc.
The state Public Utilities Commission agreed to hold a hearing November 4-5 on four sets of conditions.
Decommissioning – taking down the structures – was already outside the settlement.
The commissioners added three others for the November hearing:
Use of the adjective “severe” with the noun “icing” in condition 36;
The cumulative effect on homeowners of sound from the machines in condition 26; and adding a condition regarding protection of whooping cranes that was part of other permits for wind projects.
The electricity will sell 98 megawatts to Google and the remainder to Dairyland Power Cooperative. The project’s estimated construction cost including roads and connections is $216 million.
Commission chairman Gary Hanson noted the addition of “severe” to the word “icing” went beyond previous permits “Do we have that defined?” Hanson asked.
Brett Koenecke, a Pierre lawyer representing the project, said to him it meant that ice throw was possible. Commission analyst Jon Thurber said “severe” meant to the staff a situation “where ice throw could be a concern.”
Hanson asked whether it could be debated in court. “My answer to that would be no,” Koenecke replied, adding: “We’re on the hook for any damage.”
Hanson said he prefers to write agreements for the future. “I’d be very interested if someone could come up with something,” Hanson said. Commission attorney Kristen Edwards said the staff was comfortable with the word “severe.”
Commissioner Kristie Fiegen also didn’t like adjective. “I’m not comfortable with the word ‘severe’ anywhere in there,” she said. Fiegen suggested that ice throw could be important at places in the fields and along roads.
Koenecke said road setbacks were significant enough to eliminate damage from ice throw.
Tom Kirschenmann, assistant director for the state Wildlife Division, told commissioners there was “a rare chance” that a whooping crane would be in the project area. Regarding leks – the areas that sharp-tailed grouse use as mating grounds – Kirschenmann said it’s “impossible” for wildlife agents to know locations of every lek in South Dakota.
Kirschenmann said it’s possible there are grouse in the project area but he doesn’t know whether there are any leks there. Fiegen asked whether the staff had any concern about leks. Kirschenmann said GFP staff has discussed the potential and could “somewhat” address the leks in this project’s area along with the area for another proposed project.
“You just gave me comfort. Thank you,” Fiegen replied to Kirschenmann.
Fiegen said she was concerned about the cumulative effect of turbine sound on homeowners as more wind farms are built in eastern South Dakota.
Fiegen said she was “very concerned” about ice throw if there was a family sledding or hunting or snowmobiling.
Commissioner Chris Nelson said ice flakes flying through the air aren’t going to hurt anything. Fiegen refined her answer: “Ice throw that can hurt an individual.”
Nelson said, to him, there’s a difference between hail that doesn’t hurt people and hail that does. Hanson said a rancher working cattle “could be in harm’s way too.” Nelson said, “I’ve seen ice throw, but it’s not ice throw that’s going to hurt someone.”
Hanson suggested the commission should be comfortable taking “severe” out of the permit. Nelson said he’s fine either way.
Hanson asked what type of challenge would be posed by adding the standard whooping-crane condition. Koenecke said the docket had been developed in consultation with the federal and state agencies.
“Without them sharing concerns and us responding to them earlier in the docket, it’s difficult for us to do that today,” Koenecke said. He said he didn’t object to “piece-mealing” the settlement.
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