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PUC is successful with legislation to assist wind farm developers

(Saturday, March 12, 2005 -- CropChoice news) -- From wire service reports: South Dakota's three Public Utilities Commissioners were successful in getting legislation passed to assist in the development of wind farms in South Dakota.

Senate Bill 17 was introduced during the 2005 legislative session at the request of the PUC. It unanimously passed the Senate and the House of Representatives, and was signed into law by Governor Rounds today.

"Two goals of this legislation were to clarify the PUC's siting authority regarding wind farms so that wind development will not be held up by unnecessary legal challenges," said PUC Chairman Gary Hanson, "and to financially protect landowners when wind mills must be removed."

The law prior to this legislation was drafted in the 1970s and was intended for large fossil fuel plants or energy conversion facilities that are capable of generating 100 megawatts or larger. When a large wind farm is built, the towers, when aggregated, may meet the 100 megawatt threshold. Therefore, the new law will be better suited to siting - or approving the location of - wind facilities.

"Instead of waiting to interpret the statute when a company files to build a wind farm, or does not file an application, we wanted the statute clarified now to prevent any possible legal challenges to the PUC's interpretation," said PUC Vice Chairman Bob Sahr.

The PUC Commissioners believed that any legal challenges to the PUC's interpretation of the statute could delay or even stop the construction of large wind farms in South Dakota.

"Another important goal of this legislation was to shorten the wind farm siting approval process to six months instead of the twelve months allowed previously," said PUC Commissioner Dusty Johnson. "We clearly want to work with wind farm developers to benefit our state."

Wind farms are constructed in a much shorter time frame than most other energy conversion facilities. Given this, the PUC wanted to make it clear to developers that such an application will be handled in a more timely fashion. This streamlining of the approval process will send the message that South Dakota is a wind development friendly state.

The new law allows the PUC to require bonds, guarantees, insurance or other requirements to fund the removal of a wind tower. This provides protection for landowners when a wind farm is no longer operating and the towers need to be removed from their property.

South Dakotans or wind developers are encouraged to contact the PUC if they have questions about this legislation: call 1(800) 332-1782 or e-mail wind@www.puc.sd.gov.