The Western Area Power Administration has posted for public review and comment its draft environmental assessment of the Willow Creek Wind Energy Facility, a $210-million, 45-turbine, 103-megawatt wind farm proposed for Butte County. WAPA is taking public comment through September 9.
The most southerly towers would be about eleven miles northeast of Newell and about 25 miles north-northeast of Bear Butte. The nearest airfields are the private Bruch Airfield 23 miles away near Sturgis and the Sturgis Municipal Airport 28 miles away. Ellsworth Air Force Base is 45 miles to the south.
Each turbine tower would be about 262 feet tall, with turbine blades about 177 feet long. With upgrades, the turbines have a lifetime of 40 years. The turbines cut out when the wind reaches 56 mph, but they are designed to withstand winds up to 133 mph. Getting to the turbines will require 26 miles of access roads, some new, some upgraded from existing roads. All power from the turbines will be carried by underground cables (at least four feet deep) to the new substation along Highway 212.
Over three quarters of the 35 square miles affected by the wind farm is high plains grassland. A sixth is used for hay or pasture. There’s more scrub land than cropland; less than 3% of the terrain is cropped. The project area includes one occupied rural residence. Construction would disrupt 331 acres in the project area; the wind turbines and other permanent facilities would occupy 109 acres, about 0.5% of the total project area.
If the Willow Creek turbines were to displace power generation from fossil fuel facilities, it could reduce pollution emissions from South Dakota power plants by 4% to 24%.
The switchyard and substation would be more than a mile from the nearest residence and thus would be inaudible. Wind turbine noise at the nearest residence would be 43.3 decibels, within the current background noise range of 33–47 decibels and below the PUC-recommended 55 decibels.
An average of 580 vehicles pass by the site on Highway 212 each day. WAPA surveyors also spotted three turtle species and five snake species in the area, none endangered or threatened. Surveyors also spotted 118 avian species, including 20 raptor species, and several bat species. Surveyors recorded no endangered whooping crane or threatened northern long-eared bat and found no critical habitat for either species in the project area. Surveyors spotted golden eagles and bald eagles in the project area, but the draft projects that the wind farm would kill no more than three eagles over thirty years. (170 sheets of the 342-page document make up the wildlife inventory and bird and bat conservation strategy.)
WAPA estimates the project will bring temporary construction jobs to the area—125 on average, 200 at peak—filled mostly by out-of-towners, since Wind Quarry, the company proposing Willow Creek, “Wind Quarry anticipates that there would not be sufficient trained local labor to fill the number of jobs available.” Lasting effects will be six wind farm jobs paying a total of $300K, plus increased property tax revenue.
Avoiding the prospect of tribal protests like those currently holding up the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Cannonball–Missouri confluence in North Dakota, WAPA contacted 25 tribes last year to seek input on possible project impacts on religious and cultural sites:
Only one tribe, the Santee Sioux, responded and accepted Western’s invitation to participate in the Section 106 consultation process (email from Rick Thomas, July 20, 2015). Western responded that same day acknowledging the Santee’s participation and asked if the tribe had any concerns or general information regarding properties of traditional religious or cultural importance that Western should consider as part of the undertaking. The tribe did not respond to Western’s request for information.
On July 28, 2015, the Oglala Sioux (email from Loni Weston cc to Dennis Yellow Thunder) requested participation in monitoring [during cultural resources survey]. On July 29, 2015, Western forwarded the tribe’s request on to Wind Quarry to make arrangements for monitoring; however, their request came too late and the survey was already completed. That same day, Western responded to the Oglala asking again if the tribe was interested in participating in the Section 106 consultation process. Although the tribe did not respond to Western’s question, Western assumed the tribe’s interest.
Representatives of the Cheyenne River Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, Santee Sioux, and Standing Rock Sioux Tribes all participated in the cultural resources survey, site recording, interpretation, and NRHP evaluations. On October 15, 2015, Western (via email) contacted these tribes and the Oglala Sioux stating that the cultural resources survey report would be available for review and comment in the next few weeks. None of the tribes acknowledged the email. On November 9, 2015, these tribes were provided a copy of the cultural resources survey report for review and comment (Enclosure 3), as well as comment on NRHP eligibility and Project effect findings. None of the tribes provided comments [WAPA Draft EA, July 2016, pp. 6.2–6.3].
Again, you can provide your comment on the Willow Creek wind farm project to WAPA’s Billings office through September 9.