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A new law will streamline the process for wind energy collection facility permitting.

A new law will streamline the permitting procedures for solar and wind energy facilities.

On March 19, Governor Kristi Noem signed Senate Bill 15. The law clarifies the Public Utilities Commission’s authority to make sure permit applications for solar and wind energy facilities are handled in a timely fashion and with public safety in mind. The law also helps the PUC in managing its ongoing agenda, through stopping duplication of efforts done at the local government level.

“This major legislation doubles the amount of time citizens have to prepare for and resolve issues during wind evidentiary hearings,” said PUC Chairman Gary Hanson. “It gives citizens a stronger negotiating position, and guarantees that all parties to a docket are entitled to an evidentiary hearing. The new law also provides local governments with more influence in wind and solar development.”

“SB 15 reduces unnecessary regulatory burdens while preserving the PUC’s legal mandate to protect the health, safety, welfare, and economy in areas where large energy related projects are being constructed,” said PUC Vice Chairman Chris Nelson. “Most importantly it provides additional time for citizens to be involved in PUC wind farm permitting cases.”

“This bill is a commonsense approach from industry experts, legislators, and the Commission to reduce regulatory redundancy, right-size the permitting process, and provide certainty to further solar and wind energy production in South Dakota,” said Noem.

A similar bill, SB 14, was vetoed by Noem. Following that, the governor’s office, PUC, industry experts, and legislators worked out a compromise. SB 15 gives an orderly process of accepting and hearing public comments. It addresses the timeline of the application process, and it permits the PUC to use findings the local unit of government has already decided.

SB 15 traveled a rocky road in order to become law. On Feb. 21, the Senate Commerce and Energy Committee passed by a 5-2 vote an completely revamped (hoghoused) SB 15. The full Senate added more amendments, then passed the bill onward with a 21-14 vote. The House Commerce and Energy Committee also amended the bill, then passed it 11-2. On March 7, the House voted 47-17 in favor of the bill. The Senate concurred with the amendments made since it last saw the bill, with a 22-9 vote. Governor Kristi Noem signed it March 19.

Reporter Del Bartels, a born and raised South Dakotan and a graduate from Black Hills State University, was the editor of a weekly newspaper for 17 years.

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