South Dakota: Plug Pulled For Now

Source: BY RANDY DOCKENDORF, Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan • Posted: Thursday, September 1, 2016

AVON — A proposed wind farm near Avon has pulled its application for a state permit, one week after nearly 300 people attended a sharply divided public hearing for the project.

Prevailing Winds investors withdrew their application Tuesday with the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The move came shortly before the three-member PUC held its regular meeting that morning in Pierre.

Prevailing Winds LLC filed an application June 28 with the PUC for a state facility permit.

Sioux Falls attorney Lee Magnuson, who represents Prevailing Winds, submitted Tuesday’s motion to withdraw the application for a state facility permit.

“The Prevailing Winds project is a community wind project, and community is very important to the Prevailing Winds investors and board of governors,” he wrote in the motion.

“Unfortunately, misinformation has been circulated about the project. Keeping the interests of the community and the project in mind, Prevailing Winds is moving to withdraw the application to allow Prevailing Winds to better inform the community on the wind project and allow Prevailing Winds to revisit its options regarding the project.”

Magnuson sought the request without prejudice, meaning Prevailing Winds would not lose or waive any of its rights or privileges. As such, the wind farm could seek PUC approval at a later date.

The proposed project calls for constructing up to 100 turbines across 36,000 acres in Charles Mix and Bon Homme counties. The proposed 201-megawatt wind farm would generate up to 860,000 megawatt-hours of electric power annually. The project would generate utility scale electric power for residential, commercial and industrial consumers.

The Prevailing Winds facility would be located near the currently operating Beethoven wind farm in the Tripp-Avon area.

Prevailing Winds must seek PUC approval because the proposed facility holds the capacity for generating more than 100 megawatts.

PUC chairman Chris Nelson told the Press & Dakotan that his state regulatory board did not act at Tuesday’s meeting on Prairie Winds’ motion to withdraw its application.

The PUC was prepared to act on the more than 70 individuals and organizations which had sought status as a party in the case.

“Our posted agenda for (Tuesday’s) meeting contained the approval of some of the requested intervenors in the case,” Nelson said.

Prevailing Winds’ motion for withdrawal was filed Tuesday morning, the PUC chairman said.

“Due to this late filing, we deferred any action on this docket (until) our next meeting on September 13,” he said. “I would anticipate the September 13 meeting agenda would include our hearing and acting on this filing to withdraw.”

Nelson said he had no other indication why Prevailing Winds sought to pull its application just before Tuesday’s meeting.

Magnuson referred the Press & Dakotan’s request for further comment to Prevailing Winds senior project manager Roland Jurgens.

The Press & Dakotan sought comment from Jurgens and Prevailing Winds president Ronnie Hornstra of Avon on Tuesday’s legal motion and future plans for the wind farm. The newspaper had not received a response by press time.

Bob Mercer, a reporter for several newspapers including the Press & Dakotan, said Magnuson was asked whether the project might be broken into smaller pieces. In that way, the wind farm could move forward by operating below the 100-megawatt threshold without needing PUC permission.

Magnuson referred the question to Jurgens, who responded by email.

“Prevailing Winds, LLC does not intend to split the project as you suggest,” Jurgens replied to the question.

Regardless of whether it needs a state permit, Prevailing Winds would need approval from Bon Homme County officials. Prevailing Winds would need to comply with Article 17, an amendment to Bon Homme County’s wind energy ordinance.

Charles Mix County doesn’t have a zoning ordinance.

Tuesday’s action followed last week’s PUC public input meeting in Avon, part of the state permitting process. The estimated 300 audience members filled the school gymnasium for the meeting, which lasted about four hours.

Nelson, along with fellow PUC members Kristie Fiegen and Gary Hanson, attended the hearing.

Many wind energy supporters wore buttons expressing their sentiment, while opponents of the wind farm also showed strong feelings about the project. Both sides testified in person and submitted written statements.

Prevailing Winds supporters generally viewed the proposed project as clean energy, economic development and job creation. In addition, they viewed it as a boost for the region’s tax base with more revenue for schools whose districts included the wind farm.

Supporters pointed to the tremendous potential for wind energy in the region and the current operation of the Beethoven wind farm.

Prevailing Winds officials said their facility would generate the power currently needed by 10 rural electric cooperatives the size of Bon Homme-Yankton Electric in Tabor.

The project’s opponents criticized the proposed wind farm as harmful to the health of area residents, the environment, aesthetics and quality of life. They disputed the revenue generated for schools as greatly overstated, and they said consumers would be left covering the additional expenses of expansion.

In addition, opponents expressed concerns about a rapid succession of owners and the possibility of foreign ownership for the wind farm. One critic of the Prevailing Winds project said the wind farm investors don’t live in the area affected by the turbines.

Should Prevailing Winds return for a state permit, the PUC may schedule a formal evidentiary hearing. At that time, the PUC would consider any issues raised by any intervening party, PUC staff or the PUC members themselves.

At the formal hearing, all parties have the opportunity to appear before the PUC, present evidence, cross-examine the other parties’ witnesses and to exercise all other rights.

The current law requires the PUC to issue its decision within six months of an application being filed, Nelson said.

Parties have the right to appeal the final decision to the appropriate circuit court within 30 days after the PUC files a notice of its decision, he said.

“Based on these factors, the (PUC) will decide whether the permit for the project should be granted, denied or granted with terms, conditions or modifications of the construction, operation or maintenance of the facilities as the PUC finds appropriate,” he added.