Backers of a wind farm will need to re-start the application process for five test towers after the Lincoln County Commission ruled that the company had applied for wrong permits.
The commission’s decision means Dakota Power Community Wind will have another chance to convince the zoning board that meteorological towers meant to test south Lincoln County’s wind energy capacity are the right fit for the community.
Tuesday’s decision also means opponents of the 500-megawatt wind farm that the company hopes to sell to investors will be able to voice their concerns again to the zoning board they convinced to vote down the towers last month.
County Commission Chair Jim Schmidt told the standing room crowd that there will be plenty of opportunity for input on the towers and on the placement of wind turbines in the coming months.
“We are not trying to thwart your comments,” Schmidt said. “You will have every opportunity to do that, and we hope you do.”
That vote against permanent permits for the five towers set up Tuesday night’s appeal to the full county commission. Commissioners affirmed that vote Tuesday, but only because its legal team determined that the towers’ three to five year lifespan wasn’t long enough to be eligible for a conditional use permit.
Instead, commissioners said, the company should re-apply for a temporary use permit. The company will not need to pay the application fee again, as commissioners deemed the error an honest mistake.
The first meeting at which that permit could be considered would fall on April 27, planning and zoning director Paul Aslesen told the crowd.
“If they get their application in by Friday, there’s a 30-day window for comment,” he said.
The county is working on a revision to its zoning ordinance, and public input will be gathered on that topic on April 13.
The commissioners thanked the residents for coming to the meeting, but no public comment was offered, either for or against the towers.
The next few meetings are sure to be far more contentious.
The possibility of a massive wind farm, with hundreds of turbines peppering the landscape between Hudson, Beresford and Canton, has inspired an emotional response from many residents.
Some landowners already have signed deals to place turbines on their property if the project earns financial backing and moves ahead.
Hattie and David Baird signed off on the farm in part because they see the opportunity to work with a locally-governed group like Dakota Power Community Wind on a project they see as inevitable.
That a nearby neighbor is on the board of directors for the project was a factor in signing up, Hattie Baird said.
“The transmission lines are coming,” she said. “It’s going to come. We’re in South Dakota, and we have all this energy. If we don’t do something soon, someone else is going to come in and do it for us.”
David Baird thinks concerns about the view are overblown. He calls scenes from wind farms in Minnesota and Iowa, with cows grazing next to turbines, “peaceful as can be.”
“I’d much rather have that (next door) than a nuclear plant,” Baird said.
The opponents acknowledge that the project is locally-governed now, but they worry about the step after the project is sold. Dakota Power Community Wind wouldn’t build the turbines, they say, it will only sell the project to those will.
“Dakota Power’s made it crystal clear that they won’t build those turbines,” said Norm Solum. “The local board probably won’t exist once those are built.”
There are real questions about property values and governance that need answering, said Dave Brouwers. He’d like to see any wind farm charged with making sure turbines are bonded for removal, and he’d like to see bonds to pay for any damage to infrastructure.
“It’s been very difficult to get the correct answers,” Brouwers said.
Brouwers said he appreciated the commission’s decision to re-start the permitting, saying it’s important that the process be properly from the start.
The Bairds were pleased, as well. They also say they hope the divisive project and the months and years of debate that are sure to follow as the project is sold to investors won’t scar the rural community long-term.
“Whatever happens, I hope we can still be neighbors,” Hattie Baird said. “We need to support each other out in the country.”
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