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Public Utilities Commission approves construction permit for Triple H Wind project

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The $300 million Triple H Wind Project, when built southwest of Highmore, in Hyde County, will generate 250 megawatts (MW) of electricity, according to Triple H. Walmart intends to purchase 150 MW of this, 48 MW will be sold to a “confidential institutional buyer,” the remaining 52 MW will be sold. Triple H had to agree to more than 40 conditions to gain Public Utilities Commission approval for the project.

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission approved a construction permit for the Triple H Wind project, a wind energy facility capable of generating up to 250.54 megawatts of energy in Hyde County. The action came July 9 at the PUC’s regular meeting in Pierre.

The proposed project, approximately 3.2 miles southwest of Highmore, will include up to 92 wind turbines spread over a 27,247.5-acre area. The project footprint will also include access roads, underground collector lines and fiber-optic cable, a collection substation, one permanent meteorological tower, a 345-kV interconnection switching station, a sonic detection and ranging unit, and an operations and maintenance facility.

Triple H has entered into two power purchase agreements. Upon completion of the wind facility, it will supply Walmart with 150 megawatts of energy and 48 megawatts will be sold to a confidential institutional buyer. The remaining 52 megawatts will be sold on a merchant basis. The company estimates the project will cost approximately $300 million to build and expects to complete construction in 2020.

A settlement agreement presented by Triple H and PUC staff was previously accepted by the commission in May. Issues not addressed in the settlement – funding for decommissioning of the project, risk associated with ice throw and risk to whooping cranes – were presented at an evidentiary hearing in late June. The commission’s action this week was to rule on those issues and determine if a permit should be granted.

During the construction and operation of the project, Triple H must adhere to 41 conditions specified by the commission. Shadow flicker, sound level, land restoration after construction, potential impacts to whooping cranes and ice throw are among the condition details. Additionally, the commission voted to require the establishment of an escrow account specifically designated for the future decommissioning of the project.

At Triple H’s request, the commission also considered changing the requirements to provide notice to landowners and the commission prior to construction, and allow the applicant to begin construction on Aug. 1, 2019. After discussion, commissioners voted to maintain the standard 14-day requirement for landowners and 30-day requirement for the commission.

Of the company’s request, PUC Chairman Gary Hanson stated, “From my standpoint, I like to honor precedents and I prefer consistency. We know that there are timelines that work for us and I dislike experimenting with them. I understand the need to complete the project during one construction season, but we also need to ensure we provide proper notice to landowners and allow adequate time for citizens and communities to prepare.”

Triple H filed its application with the PUC on Feb. 6, 2019. At the time the application was filed, state law required the commission to make a decision within six months of receiving a wind energy facility application. A public input hearing was held in Highmore in March. No one sought intervention.

“The public input meeting for this particular wind farm was unlike most that we go to,” said PUC Vice Chairman Chris Nelson, on the community participation at the input hearing. “It was clear that the applicant had done the legwork with folks in the area, when they came out to support the project. That goes a long way toward telling us that things have been taken care of.”

“The applicant and the Highmore community have really done a great job to make this a win-win situation for everyone in that community,” said Commissioner Kristie Fiegen. “I greatly appreciate staff and the applicant working together to ensure that we allow for the project, but also provide protection for our citizens.”

PUC gives Crowned Ridge Wind Farm permit to construct

On Tuesday, July 9, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission approved a permit, with conditions, giving the go-ahead for the construction of the Crowned Ridge Wind Farm in northeastern South Dakota.

Commission members Gary Hanson, Chris Nelson and Kristie Fiegen made their decision at the regular PUC meeting in Pierre.

The Crowned Ridge Wind Farm will cover 53,186 acres in Grant and Codington counties. It will be capable of producing as much as 300 megawatts of energy from up to 130 wind turbines.

The wind farm is owned by Crowned Ridge Wind LLC, a wholly-owned indirect subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources LLC.

Northern States Power Co., doing business as Xcel Energy, will purchase the energy produced by the wind farm.

Crowned Ridge Wind filed its application with the PUC on Jan. 30, 2019, launching a statutory six-month review period that included a public input hearing in Waverly in March and an evidentiary hearing in Pierre in June.

The 2019 legislature revised the law, extending the review period to nine months for wind energy permit applications filed with the commission after July 1, 2019.

Intervenors participating in the Crowned Ridge Wind docket included Allen Robish and Amber Christenson of Strandburg; Kristi Mogen of Twin Brooks; and Patrick and Melissa Lynch of Watertown.

Among the 46 conditions the PUC placed on the permit are those that address sound levels and shadow flicker experienced by nearby residences, the detection of ice on turbine blades, monitoring of grouse leks within the wind farm area once construction is complete, and funding for the removal of the facilities, known as decommissioning.

“I truly believe that through the conditions we specified today, we came up with a good product,” stated PUC Chairman Hanson. “We go through this process following the evidence that has been presented and making certain we follow the law. We have to base our decision on evidence, not our feelings,” he said.

“It’s been a grind to get to where we are today,” noted PUC Vice Chairman Nelson. “Having considered all the evidence presented during this process, I believe the applicant has met the burden required in state law to obtain a permit. The operational aspects of this project have to meet the requirements that the PUC and the counties have established,” Nelson said.

Commissioner Fiegen spoke about the commission’s final decision, stating, “Today we have addressed a lot of concerns brought to our attention during the evidentiary hearing and through post-hearing briefs. What we have landed on is a combination that works for the residents of the area, for the applicant and for the state.”

Crowned Ridge Wind estimates the wind farm will cost $400 million and expects it to be completed by 2020. This wind farm is separate from the Crowned Ridge II wind farm for which an application is expected to be filed with the PUC. The commission will have nine months to process that application, pursuant to the new law, which took effect July 1.

The Crowned Ridge Wind Farm docket can be viewed on the PUC’s website at www.puc.sd.gov, Commission Actions, Electric Dockets, 2019 Electric Dockets, EL19-003 – In the Matter of the Application by Crowned Ridge Wind, LLC for a Permit of a Wind Energy Facility in Grant and Codington Counties.