The state Public Utilities Commission plans to start having wind project developers file periodic progress reports on a voluntary basis for their South Dakota sites.
The purpose is to assist the commission in ensuring that developers comply with permit conditions in a timely manner. South Dakota has seen 25 wind projects that required permits.
“We tried to make it as short as possible but still get the information that we need, and I think we were able to accomplish that,” commission staff member Jon Thurber said Thursday. “It’s a one-page report, maybe in a busy month it might flow onto the second page.”
The report would cover activities completed, planned activities, project contacts and permit compliance, according to Thurber. He said the staff hopes the reports help the projects follow and communicate and track their permit compliance. “It should be a good tool for the community that’s interested in the project,” he said.
A draft version was provided to various people who might have an interest. One comment came back, saying the draft was similar to what Minnesota regulators require.
The current plan calls for quarterly reports until construction, then monthly reports until construction is done, and then quarterly again until the project no longer is used and reclamation is finished.
Thurber said there was some internal discussion of whether monthly was too frequent during construction. He noted that one project was constructed in about six months. Others have taken longer. “Given the speed these can be constructed, I think it’s necessary,” he said.
Commission chairman Chris Nelson said the plan “makes perfect sense” for timing and the report’s simplicity is a matter of mostly cutting and pasting numbers. “It’s going to be hopefully a five-minute deal to fill out,” Nelson said.
Nelson said he also was struck by the report’s usefulness in maintaining a more positive relationship between the project and folks in the area. He said it would serve as a subtle reminder that the local public needs to be kept in mind.
“So I guess from this commissioner, double thumbs up,” Nelson said.
Commissioner Kristie Fiegen praised the template too. “It’s extremely simple,” she said. “What I do like about the template also is that it has project contacts, and when they’ve been contacted, so your public liaison I believe would be filling that out, or (PUC staff member) Deb Gregg and her department if we chose not to have a public liaison in that project.”
Fiegen also said she loved the checklist, calling it perfect. “Developers all operate differently, and I think you have noticed it. The staff has noticed it. Of course we have. And this checklist allows for some consistencies and making sure the public interest is adhered to.”
Commissioner Gary Hanson took a different perspective. “My first inclination is not to support additional regulations. I’m not thrilled about businesses being encumbered by bureaucracy with more and more and more regulations, and additional regulations usually mean that costs increase because additional work is being done in order to provide those regulations,” he said.
But, he continued, “However, as has been pointed out, this is a pretty simple chart to fill out.” He said the report would definitely “eliminate some of the mystery” that accompanies public uncertainty about a project.
“I’ll try not to cast stones here, but we have had situations where I really would have appreciated having this type of chart in front of us, because it tells us very clearly and succinctly what has taken place, what is taking place, and what needs to take place,” Hanson said. “So I very much appreciate the thoughtfulness in bringing this up. I’m sure you have the same consternation we have as commissioners when we’re trying to figure out just exactly what has been taking place and what needs to be done.”
Hanson said he’s traveled to project areas a few times. “Because you don’t know who’s being frank and being just a shade on the biased side. So this is going to be extremely helpful to us.” He said it should be a part of future projects and he hoped people involved in utilities and construction would voluntarily comply.
Nelson asked how long it would take for the commission to know that construction has started. Thurber answered that the staff wants the developer to file a letter within five days after the start. “That would be helpful for everybody, just in case some of those (scheduling) estimates shift around,” Thurber said. Monthly reports would be due five days after each month, he said.
Said Nelson to all who worked on it, “I’m very pleased with the product you’ve come up with.”