HOT SPRINGS – Fall River County commissioners discussed a county-wide assessment for the possible arrival of solar and wind farms and confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and how to manage these developments as the county grows, at their Nov. 17 meeting.
This effort was spearheaded by Commissioner Joe Allen, who, after learning that several developers had expressed interest in locating wind and solar operations and CAFOs in Fall River County, thought the county should be prepared for such development. Allen called on Rick Kaan, a Hot Springs resident, who – along with restoring old wagons – is also a consultant to the wind and solar industry.
Kaan, who said he has extensive experience locating solar energy collection sites in California and throughout the southwestern U.S., and has knowledge of eastern South Dakota’s growing wind power generation industry, told the commissioners they need to be wary.
Small companies he called “flippers,” like to come into an area like Fall River County, promise local landowners big returns on allowing them to site wind or solar farms on their ground. But the only thing they’re after, Kaan said, is energy tax credit money and tying up land so other energy companies can’t develop it. If flippers get a foothold with a landowner, it could be as long as 10 years before a legitimate energy developer can create a legitimate wind or solar farm on the property, he said.
The way to identify flippers, Kaan said, is through their offers to landowners:
Legitimate energy developers, Kaan said, will offer landowners a fixed base rate for using their land, with a sliding escalator rate, plus royalties on the energy generated from the turbines for up to 30 years, the lifespan of most turbines. Across those 30 years, in the example Kaan used, this could amount to $270,000. In short, this is a slow, but steady rate of return, because this allows genuine energy development companies to plan out their expenses.
Flippers, on the other hand, might offer a landowner $10,000 to $15,000 per turbine, per year – and here’s the catch – based on that turbine producing a particular amount of energy. If the turbine doesn’t produce enough energy, the landowner gets little or no return. In short, Kaan said, this appears to be a big payoff up front, but it usually doesn’t pan out to be this. It’s usually a flipper trying to collect tax credits.
Kaan said he’s seen wind farm flippers in operation in Watertown and he believes they might be operating around Newell, although he isn’t certain about this yet.
Another indicator of flippers as opposed to genuine energy developers is how they intend to connect to transmission lines, said Commissioner Joe Falkenberg.
Kaan agreed, noting that South Dakota has no eminent domain legislation, so it is hard to create transmission lines where none exist.
Kaan said he could envision a viable wind energy generation business developing in Fall River County, but solar was not feasible, in his opinion, due to the number of cloudy days vs. sunny days locally. Wind energy relies on wind velocity, sustained winds and a certain humidity level. These ripe conditions can be found from North Dakota through Texas in certain locations, but locations that make good prospects for wind energy are much more limited than most people think.
The commissioners agreed to continue looking into these issues as time continued.
In other business, the commissioners looked at converting the current part-time state’s attorney position into a full-time position, due to the number of cases the office is handling. The idea is to get a full-time state’s attorney on the ballot for November of 2016, with this position beginning in 2017, although Commissioner Mike Ortner thought the county could hire someone before this and put their name on the ballot in 2016 for an elected office from that point forward.
Current States Attorney Jim Sword told the commissioners he supports a full-time state’s attorney position
Sword pointed to a number of things that have led to an increase in case load for his office:
Increasing drug cases warrant this, Sword said, mentioning how, several weeks ago, a “major” methamphetamine dealer had been nabbed with 50 pounds of the drug in Hot Springs, and how this case was headed for a federal court.
Sword talked about the three layers of law enforcement his office deals with: The county sheriff’s office and the Hot Springs Police Department (HSPD), the Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and the state Highway Patrol. Beefed up city and county law enforcement has resulted in more cases, Sword said. Yet more and more, Sword noted, due to case loads, the sheriff’s office and the city police ask DCI to handle felony cases, while these two departments deal with Class I and II misdemeanors and lower crimes.
Sword also talked about the juvenile court system, how his office is seeing more child abuse cases, how it’s almost getting as bad as Lawrence County, South Dakota’s worst county for child abuse, he said.
At the same time, Sword also suggested the commissioners take “a broad view of the community” and look at ways to cut potential problems off at the pass. For example, he talked about the effectiveness of the FFA program and ag classrooms and welding classes for keeping kids who might be getting into trouble out of bigger problems. Along this line, Sword pointed out how the county paid $23,000 so far this year and $48,000 last year to the Western South Dakota Juvenile Service Center
The commissioners discussed what sort of salary might be needed to attract full-time legal talent to Hot Springs.
Sword said he and Patrick Ginsbach, both of Farrell, Farrell & Ginsbach, local attorneys, were giving the county two 30- to 40-hour work weeks for the price of a part-time attorney’s salary.
The current state’s attorney salary allotment for Fall River and Oglala Lakota Counties is more than $90,000, with the overall state’s attorney budget $167,000. This includes a $31,000 deputy state’s attorney, and money for investigations, postage and office supplies.
Ginsbach recalled when there were a dozen lawyers in Hot Springs, but today only three remain and two are part-time attorneys.
Ortner said a $73,500 minimum salary would be needed to draw legal talent to the area, and preclude an attorney from desiring a private practice on the side – potentially a conflict of interest, which happens now in some circumstances.
The commissioners didn’t like the idea of hiring someone straight out of law school, because that person would be likely to use the county position as a stepping stone to move to a bigger community. And in discussing who might likely pursue the full-time state’s attorney job, no one had any suggestions. Sword didn’t want it and no one else knew of anyone who might be interested, although Sword did say that there’s probably a 5th grader sitting in school right now who will become the county’s state’s attorney some day.
The commissioners agreed to discuss this further during their December meetings.
Another item the commissioners discussed was how Burlington, Northern and Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad trains are blocking Highway 471, connecting Edgemont to Igloo, Provo and Ardmore.
The commissioners have heard from residents in Edgemont, including Mayor Carl Shaw, that this is taking place and wanted to know what can be done.
Falkenberg said this started about three weeks ago, and instead of BNSF putting the trains in the roundhouse, the cars are sitting at the intersection in Edgemont, blocking the road for up to 40 minutes at a clip, he said. Falkenberg worries that if there was a medical emergency or a fire, an ambulance or fire truck couldn’t get through.
Commissioner Deb Russell envisioned a person having a heart attack being driven to the hospital trying to get through, the liability involved in this.
Later in the meeting the commissioners learned that railroads can block public roadways for a maximum of 20 minutes.
Susan Henderson, who has had livestock in the track when trains have come through, suggested putting a sign near the crossing with the BNSF help desk number, 817-593-6823, to get BNSF’s “attention” about this issue. According to BNSF’s website, the railroad’s emergency number is 1-800-832-5452.