The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission has granted planning permission for the Wild Springs Solar Project in Pennington County. The decision allows Wild Springs to advance plans to build a solar power plant that can generate up to 128 megawatts of energy half a mile south of New Underwood, South Dakota.
Wild Springs, PUC staff and the Burndorf Family Trust, the docket’s sole intervener, previously tabled a settlement agreement at their meeting on November 12, 2020, which the Commission accepted. The agreement resolved all of the problems except the related financial security for the decommissioning. The Commission’s action this week was to decide on the proposed decommissioning condition submitted by Wild Springs and determine whether a permit should be granted.
“It is extremely interesting and very exciting to see this type of renewable energy project develop in South Dakota,” said Gary Hanson, Chairman of PUC. “Ten to 20 years ago solar energy wasn’t a viable option for our state because we didn’t have the right climate for it. It is exciting to see that the technology has grown and investors are ready to support a renewable energy that has very few challenges from an aesthetics or noise or the like standpoint, ”he said.
The approved permit contains 38 conditions that must be met during the construction and operation of the project. Soil restoration, possible effects on threatened and endangered species, post-construction breeding bird surveys and associated nest monitoring, and financial security for future shutdown are all details to which the conditions relate.
“We have dealt with the closure of financial security on various projects over the past three years. We’ve talked about a lot of different options, and so far we’ve introduced an escrow account. In part because we have never been presented with a bond in an irrevocable way. In this case, the applicant found a way to give us confidence that whatever happens to the owner, the bond will stand, ”said Vice Chairman Chris Nelson. “I really appreciate the time the staff went into first asking if this was appropriate and then working the details with the applicant to make sure this works over the long term,” he continued.
The proposed solar project will include up to 1,499 acres of privately owned land and include approximately 340,000 solar panels. Other components of the project are inverters, a tracking rack system, fences, access roads, a substation, an operating and maintenance building, a parking lot, electrical collecting lines, up to three weather stations and temporary construction areas.
“This is the largest solar project in South Dakota to date. We at PUC have had a lot of experience with wind development over the past few years, but in some ways solar is different. I appreciate the efforts of the PUC staff and the applicant to help us ensure that our landowners are well protected, ”said Commissioner Kristie Fiegen.
Wild Springs expects to complete construction of the $ 190 million facility by the end of 2022. Upon completion of the project, the project will be linked to the Western Area Power Administration’s New Underwood Substation, which is adjacent to the project area. The energy generated by the solar system is purchased from the Basin Electric Power Cooperative.
Wild Springs submitted its application to the PUC on May 15, 2020. The PUC held a public hearing by telephone on July 1.
The Wild Springs Solar Project docket can be viewed on the PUC website at
www.puc.sd.gov, Commission Actions, Electric Sockets, 2020 Electric Sockets,
EL20-018 – On the matter of Wild Springs Solar, LLC’s application for a solar power installation in Pennington County, South Dakota.