A third planning workshop on wind turbine placement rules in Lincoln County saw supporters and opponents using students as ammunition for their arguments Tuesday night in Canton.
The zoning meeting was the third to focus on wind tower rules in less than a month. The county’s been working to update its full zoning ordinance for more than a year, but the wind tower issue has become the most contentious regulatory battle in the rewrite.
Tuesday’s meeting began with Canton School District Superintendent Terry Gerber telling planning commissioners that his district faces a shortfall every year due to declining enrollment. Every year, his district dips into capital outlay dollars to cover basic needs, but the fund is shrinking.
By 2018, the district will need to opt-out of the property tax freeze to pay teacher salaries.
The school board hasn’t taken a position on the wind farm, but “we do have a structural deficit,” Gerber said.
Tax revenues from wind power could add to school coffers, said Brian Minish of Val-Add Service Corporation, which backs the project.
A 500-turbine farm around Beresford, Canton and Hudson would deliver as much as $1.7 million a year to three school districts.
Opponents claimed that losses in property values would decrease tax revenues and leave the schools with a net loss.
Property tax losses and a continued loss of students as families move away from a wind district would actually result in a loss of $690,000 in revenue for the Canton district, according to Winnie Peterson of We-Care SD.
Other opponents agreed.
“Is the proposed amount of money we’re supposed to get going to offset what we’re going to lose?” asked Robin Ventura of Hudson. “I don’t believe for a second it will.”
Jennifer Fischer said families would leave districts to avoid the health impact of living in the shadow of an industrial wind zone. She told commissioners that autistic children could experience health problems from nearness to wind towers.
Backers offered a study from MIT that dismissed concerns about health as junk science and pointed to high-dollar homes in Iowa to de-bunk worries over property values.
The MIT study, published in November of 2014, found no significant health impacts from living near wind turbines, no impacts from noise, and no impacts from shadow flicker.
The study found a “nocebo” effect, meaning that people who were told they’d be harmed by wind turbine sounds reported health problems even when no sound was present.
“This is pure science, guys. This is the kind of thing we use in courts to prove things by a preponderance of evidence,” Minish said.
If the planning commission adopted its proposal to keep turbines more than a half mile from all non-participating homes unless a waiver is signed, Minish said, it would be doing so with no scientific rationale.
Lincoln County’s current rules already are more restrictive than nearly any other county in the state.
Minish also pointed to high dollar homes and the assessment of a realtor in Spirit Lake, Iowa as evidence that property tax fears are unfounded. Backers had offered other studies on property taxes in prior meetings.
Paul Shubeck of Beresford asked commissioners to be forward-thinking in its assessment of its turbine rules. South Dakota needs to be a player in homegrown, renewable energy, he said.
“I would like to see Lincoln County take a leadership role. Regardless of what political side you’re on, we need more energy,” Shubeck said.
Commissioner Ron Albers told both sides that the commission has heard enough to know that there’s no way to satisfy everyone. He reminded the backers that even if everything goes as Dakota Power Community Wind wants it to, it will be years before the first turbine comes up for a vote.
“It’s going to be a long process,” Albers said.
The next meeting of the planning commission on May 18 will see the wind group ask for five temporary permits for meteorological towers. The test towers would be used to prove up the wind capacity of the county and sell the project to investors.
A previous attempt to earn full conditional use permits failed in February.
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