PIERRE | The Willow Creek wind farm, planned for a site about 10 miles northeast of Newell, on Thursday won approval of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.
The project, proposed by Wind Quarry LLC, drew no public opposition at the PUC meeting despite the fact that a town hall meeting called to protest the project was convened in Newell early last month. The Journal tried to reach some of the organizers of the meeting, but none returned calls.
Not many proposals for wind farms come before the PUC. State law doesn’t require a PUC permit for facilities that produce less than 100 megawatts of electricity.
Thursday marked the first wind-farm permit for the two newest of the commission’s three members. Chris Nelson and Kristie Fiegen joined longtime member Gary Hanson in approving, and praising, the Willow Creek project.
Wind Quarry intends to erect 45 turbines with a combined output of 103 megawatts across three townships in Butte County. The project would connect with the Western Area Power Administration’s transmission line between Maurine and Rapid City.
The company doesn’t have a power purchase agreement yet with a potential buyer of the electricity, however. “We’re working very diligently,” said Patrick O’Meara, chief executive officer for the Montrose, Colo.-based developer.
Fiegen described the application as “very complete, very thorough.”
Nelson, the chairman, told the company’s executives: “This is rare for us to have so few questions.”
Added Hanson, “You worked well with citizens.”
“You worked with all sectors of the public,” Fiegen said. “I love to have renewable energy and especially when it’s not real close to residential.”
Before the Oct. 3 town hall meeting, Matt Rankin, of Saratoga, Wyo., spokesman for Stop Willow Creek Wind Project, cited the project's potential for noise pollution, injury to livestock and wildlife and environmental damage to terrain and historic sites included in the proposed project area.
Rankin also said the 440-foot tall turbines would be visible from Bear Butte 26 miles away, a religious site for many Native Americans.
O’Meara has said the project’s location had been moved more to the northeast from its original site to lessen the sight line from Newell and Bear Butte and to keep the proposed turbines further away from eagles nesting along the Belle Fourche River.