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Electricity producers, regulators agree: Changing wind permits is too complex

File photo of a wind energy system. (Matt Gade / Republic)

PIERRE — State lawmakers killed bills Wednesday to expand the time and tighten the process South Dakota utility regulators use to reach a decision on a wind energy permit.

The House Commerce and Energy Committee rejected a proposal from Rep. Jason Kettwig, R-Milbank, to narrow qualifications to be a party in permitting.

The vote was 11-0 to table HB 1164. Tabling means the bill can be resurrected with a majority vote.

Kettwig asked the committee to defeat it. He is city administrator for Milbank, the Grant County seat. The Big Stone power plant is in Grant County.

Gary Hanson, vice chairman for the state Public Utilities Commission, made a similar request on a bill that would have given the commission up to one year to process a wind permit.

State law currently provides a six-month decision deadline on wind permits.

"This has been a part of those extensive discussions on 1164," Hanson told the committee. "So I'm asking it to be euthanized."

Rep. Tim Rounds, R-Pierre, agreed. Rounds, the committee chairman, had worked on 1164. He said he "can verify" time was spent on HB 1022 trying to find language that satisfied the sides.

The committee, however, had introduced the commission's bill. Some of the committee didn't want to let it go. The tabling motion needed seven "yes" votes to pass. The tally was 6-5.

Rep. Mark Willadsen, R-Sioux Falls, tried to kill 1022 outright.

"I think it's important we go along with the sponsor of the bill," Willadsen said, referring to the commission.

Rep. Spencer Gosch, R-Glenham, disagreed.

"There has been discussion but it hasn't been done here," Gosch said, referring to the committee. "There's been good support in South Dakota, and I think we should debate it."

Willadsen responded: "A lot of unintended consequences were brought out with the changes."

House Democratic Leader Spencer Hawley, of Brookings, has 10 members in the House, including him, while Republicans have 60.

"You're saying behind closed doors. We weren't privy to it," Hawley said to Gosch. Hawley wanted the bill killed. "There's been no testimony," Hawley said.

Rep. Elizabeth May, R-Kyle, wanted testimony.

"Let them come forward. Let's have the debate here," May said.

Rep. Wayne Steinhauer, R-Hartford, suggested the testimony should be taken. Willadsen wouldn't give.

"They're not ready to bring the bill. They're not ready to take a position," Willadsen said.

Utility company lobbyists crowded inside the committee doorway and the area outside. Rounds, who had two of the 13 members gone, delayed action until the meeting's end.

When the panel returned to the bill, Gosch explained why he wanted to wait until Feb. 21 to consider the bill: "I'm just asking we give it a hearing."

Replied Willadsen: "I don't think we need to talk about it a whole lot more."

Rounds read the committee the note he had received from commissioner Hanson. One of the remarks said there was too much to do and the commission preferred to wait until 2019.

The deferral motion was a voice vote. "No" sounded much louder than "yes." That took the committee back to the motion to kill 1022 outright.

"I think we should respect the wishes of the sponsor," Rep. Lana Greenfield, R-Doland, said.

Most of the committee did, voting 9-4.

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