County Commission approves vacating two section lines for 174 Power Global
HOT SPRINGS – Fall River County Commissioners unanimously approved vacating portions of a pair of intersecting section lines in Minnekahta Valley – located within a 700-acre area situated midway between Hot Springs and Edgemont on both sides of Hwy. 18 – which will pave the way for a new utility scale solar energy project to begin construction in April 2018.
The decision was made during a Public Hearing at the commissioner’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 7, following the presentation by representatives of 174 Power Global, a subsidiary of the Korean-based Fortune Global 500 Hanwa Group, which is developing the project. Speaking on behalf of the petitioners were John E. Taylor, a Sioux Falls attorney with Taylor Law Firm, LLC, and Brison R. Ellinghaus, the Director of Interconnection and Land Development with 174 Power Global.
The 700 acres of land in which the section lines are located are owned by two separate parties, including Scott and Joyce Phillips and the Collins Family Trust.
174 Power Global has intentions to rent the land for the solar farm, which is currently being utilized as pasture and hay ground by the two families. But in order for the company to fully invest its time and resources into finalizing the project, the vacating of approximately 3 to 4 miles of the section line right-of-ways was needed to ensure contiguous site access for construction and the secure, long-term operation of the project over the course of its expected 35 year life span.
According to information presented at the 174 Power Global/Hanwha Q CELLS is the second largest global manufacturer of solar cells and modules and has developed more than 35 similar utility-scale solar projects, totaling more than 500 Megawatts (MW) completed and more than 750 MW in final development. Other U.S. projects are located in Texas, Nevada, Idaho, Connecticut and Indiana.
The Fall River County project itself – known as the SD Sun Solar Project – entails 570 “usable” acres of land, despite the entire site covering approximately 700 total acres. With a capacity of 40 MW, the company has already put into place power purchases with Black Hills Energy for delivery in 2018 and 2019, generating enough power for 45,000 homes – assuming 200kWHS per month.
Ellinghaus said his company’s project in Fall River County will bring significant investment into South Dakota, including more than $40 million invested into design, development, equipment and construction. The expected impact on the job market will be felt most notably in the construction phase, which Ellinghaus said could involve 50 jobs, with about five permanent jobs afterwards to take care of the day-to-day operation of the site. He added however that not all of those operational jobs would necessarily be local. He said the company would utilize local people and local businesses when possible.
In addition to the benefits of job creation, Ellinghaus also pointed out the benefit to the county’s tax base, which he said would likely “start as a trickle.” Commissioners did request some additional information on the company’s projected impact on tax revenue.
If construction can begin in April 2018 as planned, Ellinghaus said it should be able to become operational by September 2018. Ellinghaus said the expected 35 year life span of the project is based on the solar cells losing 1 percent of their capability in the first year, and then a half of a percent in each year after that.
Prior to the commissioners approving the vacating of the section lines, Taylor, the company’s attorney, presented a petition that had been signed by 44 Fall River County registered voters – significantly more than required 1 percent of the number of county ballots cast in the last gubernatorial election. Taylor said included in the list of petition names were representatives from both families whose land the solar farm would be located, along with all nearby neighbors.
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Taylor added that while the current section lines are “technically open, they are practically closed” as they are located entirely on private land, are not part of any county or state road system, not part of a municipality and do not provide access to any public land or private land dedicated to public use. Additionally, if the section lines are vacated, Taylor added, utility and transmission lines will not be affected nor will emergency services access.
Commissioner Paul Nabholz told Taylor that he was supportive of the solar project but is generally opposed to vacating any and all section lines. He asked if the company would consider writing into its petition the creation of an alternative right-away around the vacated section lines that utilizes the perimeter of the project. Taylor responded by saying that he didn’t think that concept would be feasible, but that he had visited with States Attorney Jim Sword about that idea prior to the meeting.
Commission Chair Joe Falkenburg expressed some frustration with the line of questioning and discussion which had ensued following Taylor’s presentation.
“Whenever any of us are up for election, the question always comes up as to ‘what would you do to bring an industry here?’” Falkenburg said, adding that they now have an opportunity to do just that so he didn’t understand why the commission would hesitate in approving their request.
Ultimately, the commission did approve the petition to vacate by a unanimous 5-0 vote.
Following the decision, 174 Power Global released a statement through Ellinghaus, saying, “174 Power Global is pleased with the decision of the County Commission. The decision supports the interests of Fall River County, Black Hills Power, and 174 Power Global working together to make the project a reality. The project will bring both short and long term benefits through job creation, economic diversification, stable power pricing and provision of clean renewable energy to the region.”
In other business, the county:
• Considered an idea presented by Commissioner Nabholz for Fall River County, along with Pennington County or any other nearby county, to purchase the former STAR Academy for use as a regional jail facility. Nabholz said the state had recently tried to sell the property – including 168,000 sq. ft. of buildings situated on 173 acres of land – for $2.4 million but failed. That price represented a cost per foot of just $14.30 for the buildings, without giving any credit for land use. The site was large enough to house 200 patients/inmate not including staff. The price was a bargain he said, considering an entity had previously recommended the county build a 50 inmate jail of 20,000 sq. ft at a cost of $5.7 million ($285/sq. ft). While not a lot of support for the idea was exhibited by the other commissioners, Commission Chair Falkenburg asked Nabholz to “keep us informed.”
• Discussed again the topic of the Scenic Road bridge, three miles east of Hot Springs, which they had previously agreed upon to follow the engineers’ recommendation to strip off the top layer of asphalt in order to better inspect the deck. Highway Superintended Randy Seiler was then directed to work with the state as soon as possible to mill the asphalt off at a cost of $2,000, which pays for the teeth of the milling machine.
• Heard a report from Emergency Manager Frank Maynard, who said the SD Dept. of Ag disapproved the drought declaration for Fall River County due to lack of crop loss compared to federal guidelines.
• Heard a request from GIS Specialist Stacey Martin regarding her ideas as to how the former Extension office could be remodeled in order to best fit the needs of the Director of Equalization’s and her office’s when they move into their new location, following the Extension and Weed & Pest’s move into the South Annex (former ambulance building).