Photo Jan 15, 4 40 50 PM.jpg

In this 2016 file photo Chris Nelson, of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, (back to camera) discusses Pierre’s new solar array with Tom Heller, chief executive officer of Missouri River Energy Services, and Harold Schiebout, board chairman of MRES. (File)

Instead of requiring a six-month advance notification, then a possible 12 months for the application itself, Senate Bill 14 would treat solar energy facilities the same as other energy producers.

SB 14 was introduced by the Senate Committee on Commerce and Energy at the request of the Public Utilities Commission. It was then passed by the same committee, January 15.

SB 14 defines solar energy facilities and establishes certain provisions regarding solar energy permits. Defining such companies was not at issue before the committee. The bill reads, “ ‘Solar energy facility,’ a new facility, or facility expansion consisting of a commonly managed integrated system of solar panels, power collection systems, electric interconnection systems, and associated facilities, that converts solar energy into electricity and that is designed for or capable of generation of one hundred megawatts AC or more of electricity.”

What was highly contended was the time from when solar energy companies begin their permitting process through the Public Utilities Commission, and when the application is to be completed.

A surprise opponent to the bill was Aaron Scheibe, deputy commissioner of the South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development. He agreed that there was no doubt that energy producers, including solar power, should be regulated. He argued the proposed bill does not reduce the one-year permit time.

“There are companies trying to seek out and buy solar power,” Scheibe said, citing his GOED experience. He said that the industry, PUC, and administration should look at solar regulation as a package, not piecemeal such as with this bill.

Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson’s rebuttal included that this bill is solely about solar. Current law requires solar applicants to go through a different application process. This bill rolls back the six-month notice of the solar energy permit application time. Solar energy, along with all other energy conversion facilities of 100 megawatts or larger, would have 12 months for the PUC to deny or render a permit. Solar power in South Dakota is relatively new. Nelson said he would hesitate to look at any broader scope until we know more about what we are looking at. It’s a learning process, one that is good for transparency of the PUC and government in general.

The bill’s new addition to current law concerning the 12 months simply adds “solar energy facilities” to the list of other energy conversion facilities.

Discussion was held by committee members on the facilities that produce 99 kilowatts of energy or less, thus being below the requirements by the PUC. One commissioner asked if there was really any reason to treat solar facilities any differently.

The Senate Committee on Commerce and Energy passed Senate Bill 14.

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