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BELLE FOURCHE | A new building permit, a new company and excavation of holes for four wind turbine foundations seem to be new steps toward reviving a wind farm project north of Belle Fourche.

Two days after filing for a Butte County building permit on Dec. 17, PNE Wind USA announced that they had begun construction of the "Belle Fourche" wind farm project.

According to the release, "Wind power turbines with a total output of up to 30 megawatt can be erected on this project."

The release didn't mention earlier work on the project through 2011 that brought regional publicity but no windmills, and what seemed to end it.

State and federal agencies play major roles in whether the project will get beyond this year's Dec. 17 Butte County building permit. The permit is for "partial excavation of four wind turbine foundations."

The news release noted, "Over the last few years, the wind farm has been developed by the American subsidiary of the wind farm developer PNE Wind, AG (Cuxhaven, Germany). Development activities have now reached the point that construction can begin."

It appears that Congress' extension of a production tax credit (PTC) for a year helps the project.

Frank Kraatz, president of PNE Wind USA, said in the release, “By starting construction in 2014, we are able to secure the PTC benefits for this project. Securing the PTC is a necessary step for the profitable operation of the wind farm as well as the basis for being able to market the wind farm.”

PNE Wind USA partnered in the original wind farm plan. It is part of the German firm PNE Wind AG, an international developer of wind farms and wind energy. The American division is headquartered in Chicago.

On the rolling wind-swept prairie north of Belle Fourche, Eileen Miller said just before New Year's Eve, "They just did some digging."

Miller and her husband Mike have a cow-calf operation north of Belle Fourche that has land under easement for the wind farm project.

The wind farm appeared to be on its way to tall towers and huge propellers in early 2011. The plan was to develop the project for Black Hills Power. BHP has a potential transmission portal just a few miles from the proposed facility.

But South Dakota's Public Utilities Commission said in 2011 that it didn't have legal authority to pre-approve the project to guarantee BHP would have approval to recover its costs for a $38 million project.

The power company pulled the plug.

“We will keep this project alive,” Mark Eilers said after the PUC decision.

Eilers is a Rapid City native and president of Renewable Solutions, the Minnesota-based company that did the groundwork toward the wind farm.

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In many states, Eilers said, regulators first give a utility a certificate of need for a new plant. After it is built, the utility applies for rate increases to cover construction costs of a plant that regulators supported.

South Dakota law has a single step. Power companies build a power plant, and then ask for rate hikes to cover the cost.

Eastern South Dakota has wind farms built under that rule, Eilers said. He said it does add risk for a utility.

“I wasn’t completely blindsided, but I guess I was optimistic and I’m still optimistic,” he said. “We’ll work with Black Hills and we’ll work with the PUC and we’ll work with the governor’s office.”

He added, "To me it’s not a matter of if, but when."

Eilers told the Butte County Post that the 2011 plan was for between seven and 12 turbines, each about 250 feet tall.

If completed, the wind farm appears to be the first commercial wind farm west of the Missouri River in South Dakota.

Wind is no problem at the Miller ranch and the adjoining Tom Davis place that had been part of the original plan under Eilers' firm.

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