State regulators consider OK for Dakota Range wind farm

Bob Mercer Farm Forum Correspondent
Farm Forum

PIERRE — The Dakota Range project that would turn wind into electricity 10 miles northeast of Watertown in Codington and Grant counties faces a final decision Tuesday from South Dakota regulators.

The state Public Utilities Commission has scheduled a special meeting that starts at 1:30 p.m. at the Capitol. The commission had a hearing last month on the project. It would have up to 72 turbines and cost an estimated $380 million.

Northern States Power, doing business as Xcel Energy, filed a letter with the commission June 21 saying the corporation would own the project and be responsible for all costs including decommissioning.

One of the remaining disputes between lawyers for the commission staff and lawyers for the project developers is the proposal that two conditions receive confidential treatment.

The developers’ lawyers contend those conditions contain information relating to the turbine safety manual that was admitted as a confidential exhibit at the hearing.

“The information contained in the manual would provide an advantage to a competitor if known,” wrote Mollie Smith, a lawyer for the developer.

The staff objects to confidential treatment for one of the two conditions.

“The law and public policy do not support confidential treatment in this circumstance,” wrote Kristen Edwards, a commission lawyer. “Applicant cited no authority in its brief for why the proffered condition should be confidential or upon what grounds it would be legal to do so.”

Eight lines in the commission lawyer’s July 5 letter regarding the confidential treatment are blacked out. Edwards said in the letter the staff didn’t take a stance on confidentiality for the other condition.

The South Dakota manager for Northern States Power is Steve Kolbeck, a former commissioner. He resigned from his elected seat on the commission in 2011 before his term expired, so he could accept an executive post with another utility company the commission regulates.

Opponents at the hearing wanted the project to be required to use a 2-mile setback for locating turbines from nonparticipating landowners, guarantee property values, follow a mitigation plan for grasslands and impose additional decommissioning requirements.

The project is in an area traditionally used by American Indian people and has continuing significance for wildlife including bald eagles and bats.

Developers said they were actively working with the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate government.

They also noted the state Department of Health sent a letter showing the department hadn’t taken a formal position on the issue of wind turbines and human health.

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