South Dakota PUC Approves 250 MW Triple H Wind Farm

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The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has approved a construction permit for Engie’s Triple H Wind project, a wind facility capable of generating up to 250.54 MW of energy in Hyde County.

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 latest action was to rule on those issues and determine if a permit should be granted.

Triple H must adhere to 41 conditions specified by the commission during the construction and operation of the project: e.g., concerns addressing shadow flicker, sound level, land restoration after construction, potential impacts to whooping cranes and ice throw. 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. 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. 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 in this docket.

PUC vice chairman Chris Nelson reflected on the community participation at the input hearing: “The public input meeting for this particular wind farm was unlike most that we go to. 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,” he said.

Commissioner Kristie Fiegen also recognized the company’s efforts at the local level and in working with the commission: “The applicant and the Highmore community have really done a great job to make this a win-win situation for everyone in that community. I greatly appreciate staff and the applicant working together to ensure that we allow for the project, but also provide protection for our citizens.”

The proposed project, located 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 fiberoptic 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 MW of energy, and 48 MW will be sold to an undisclosed institutional buyer. The remaining 52 MW 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.

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