PIERRE, S.D. -- The Public Utilities Commission is issuing a maximum fine of $30,000 to Prevailing Wind Park LLC for violating permit conditions for a 50,000-acre wind farm being constructed in southeastern South Dakota.

In a letter sent to the PUC and during the commission's Tuesday, May 14, meeting, representatives for Prevailing Wind admitted to starting construction of its 219.6-megawatt wind farm earlier than the PUC's permit allowed. The company was permitted to begin construction April 28, but according to local interveners and Prevailing Wind representatives, construction began as early as April 18.

According to Vice President of Wind Operations Peter Pawlowski, more work was done on the site in Bon Homme County on April 19 and 23, at which point a manager was made aware of the situation and ceased construction. The project is projected to span 50,000 acres in Bon Homme, Charles Mix and Hutchinson counties, with 61 turbines generating 219.6 megawatts of power.

On April 25, the company sent a letter reporting the early construction to the PUC, but the letter only cited one day of early work. Pawlowski said the letter was sent prior to an internal investigation, in which they found work began even earlier.

Commissioner Kristie Fiegen said the fact that Prevailing Wind violated one of many conditions in their permits so early in their construction was a major concern -- especially for a project of its size.

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"That's unsettling because, what else?" Fiegen said. "Is this a one-time occurrence out of all the conditions we have? Or is this going to be a recurrence?"

PUC Vice Chairman Chris Nelson told Prevailing Wind's representatives Tuesday, "You have got to get things under control there," and motioned to fine the company $2,500 and refer the case to the Bon Homme state's attorney for potential charges.

But that wasn't enough for PUC Chairman Gary Hanson, who said, "I don't know if $2,500 sends the message to a billion dollar company."

Ultimately, attorneys for the PUC and Prevailing Wind settled in order to avoid a costly civil lawsuit. Prevailing Wind will pay the maximum fine of $10,000 per day of the violation, totaling $30,000. The money will go to the permanent school fund.

A condition of the settlement was that the PUC will not refer the case to the local state's attorney, though that does not prevent them from going after the case themselves.

Nelson said the fine's intention was to "firmly establish the seriousness" of Prevailing Wind's permit violation.