South Dakota Public Utilities Commission issues first permit for large-scale solar facility

Published on February 06, 2020 by Kevin Randolph

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The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved Feb. 3 a construction permit for the 110-megawatt (MW) Lookout Solar Project in Oglala Lakota County, its first permit for a large-scale solar generation facility.

The approved settlement agreement includes 37 conditions that must be met during the construction and operation of the facility, including requirements related to land restoration, habitats of threatened and endangered species, cultural resources reporting, decommissioning, avian and bat mortality and prairie grouse lek surveying. Lookout Solar must also submit the landowners’ lease agreement approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the Commission prior to commercial operation.

“This project contains many unique components,” PUC Chairman Gary Hanson said. “As a result, our permit contains conditions that are equally unique. With every siting permit the PUC issues, we aim to include protections for South Dakota citizens and their property. In this case, the property on which this project will be built is individually-owned Indian trust land. The Bureau of Indian Affairs provides an additional layer of oversight for the project and an extra layer of protection for landowners.”

Lookout Solar anticipates completing the construction of the $100 million facility by the second quarter of 2021. The facility will be built on approximately 810 acres on the Pine Ridge Reservation and include up to 500,000 solar panels, an energy storage facility, access roads, underground 34.5 kV electrical collector lines, an underground fiber-optic cable, a collection substation, an operations and maintenance facility, and temporary construction areas.

“The one thing that I want to highlight in this particular project is the fact that these folks are placing their transmission line underground,” PUC Vice Chairman Chris Nelson said. “We’ve not seen that anywhere else. Much to their credit, this applicant has chosen the underground option to ensure there’s minimal impact on the viewscape. I certainly appreciate them making that effort.”

Lookout Solar filed its application with the PUC on Dec. 17, 2018, making the project the first solar energy facility the commission considered for siting.

“I appreciate staff and the company working together to bring us this settlement stipulation,” Commissioner Kristie Fiegen said. “Solar siting is new for us. This is the first solar permit we’ve seen so I appreciate the parties working through all the issues in detail.”

Once completed, Lookout Solar will interconnect to the high-voltage transmission lines owned by Western Area Power Administration near Cottonwood Cutoff. A buyer for the power generated by the project has not been announced.