South Dakota was able to fabricate a budget surplus with federal coronavirus stimulus checks and a surge in wind farm construction. South Dakota can’t do much on its own to keep the Biden bucks flowing (our members of Congress have actually voted against major federal investments in South Dakota’s general welfare), but it could do more to boost wind construction. The Public Utilities Commission handled four wind energy siting dockets in 2018 and six in 2019, but the PUC received only one wind farm application in 2020 and one in 2021. And that last one, the North Bend Wind Project, just got postponed indefinitely due to balking from Hughes County:
The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously Friday for deferring the permit hearing that had been scheduled for April 19-21, 2022.
The action came in response to a request from the project developer, who is waiting for a conditional use permit from Hughes County [Bob Mercer, “North Bend Wind Hearing Is Delayed a Second Time,” KELO-TV, 2022.03.06].
The 200-megawatt, 71-turbine North Bend wind farm would be built by French company Engie North America, which built the 250-megawatt Triple H wind farm in Hyde County in 2019 and 2020. The PUC is waiting for the Hughes County Commission to approve a conditional use permit for North Bend, but Hughes County doesn’t seem to trust Engie yet to take care of the roads:
“First, the Hughes County Commission witnessed the issues in Hyde County with the Triple H Wind Farm. Commissioners were able to monitor the condition of those roads at all stages of that project. We want to protect Hughes County from additional, unforeseen road maintenance expenses due to this project and having a thorough Haul Road Agreement in place will allow us to do that,” the county’s letter said [Mercer, 2022.03.06].
Our friend and Holabird farmer Nick Nemec seems to think Engie did pretty good work on his county’s roads. In written comments submitted during the PUC’s public input process on North Bend in August, Nemec, whose land hosts one of Engie’s Triple H turbines, said he saw Engie working hard amidst very rainy conditions to maintain and even improve the gravel roads, widening some roads, intersections, and field approaches, replacing some bad culverts, and leaving their haul roads in better condition than they were before the project.
Nemec also presented anecdotal evidence that wind turbines may offer protection for wildlife:
There have been claims that wind towers have negative effects on wildlife and that they will drive wildlife away. I would like to relate something I saw this spring. In early June I was planting sunflowers on my wind tower field. A mama antelope with a pair of twins was lying in the shadow of the tower, within 20 feet of the base of the tower. Over the course of the day, as the shadow moved, I witnessed mama and the twins get up and move over in order to stay in the shade. I found this amusing and evidence that wind towers might not be as hard on wildlife as sometimes claimed [Nick Nemec, comment to the Public Utilities Commission, North Bend Wind Project Docket EL-21-018, August 2021].
Governor Kristi Noem keeps telling us South Dakota has the strongest, freest economy in America. It’s funny she’s not making more of an effort to tell Hughes County to get out of the way and extend that freedom to the North Bend Wind Farm, the kind of project that saved her budget last year. But oh yeah, effort….