TYNDALL – The Bon Homme County commissioners are scheduled to decide next week the fate of a proposed wind energy ordinance.
The agenda for Tuesday’s regular commission meeting includes the second reading of Article 17, said Auditor Tammy Brunken. She will finalize the agenda – including the tentative time for action on Article 17 – by 9 a.m. Monday so it can be posted for public inspection 24 hours before the meeting.
“(Article 17) will be up for discussion at the meeting,” she said. “(The commissioners) can make changes up until the second reading. However, (the ordinance) becomes finalized once it receives the second reading and is approved.”
Currently, Bon Homme County’s zoning ordinance doesn’t address wind energy systems, Brunken said.
The recently-constructed Beethoven wind farm lies in Bon Homme, Hutchinson and Charles Mix counties. Last month, NorthWestern Energy finalized its purchase of the 80-megawatt Beethoven wind project located near Tripp. NorthWestern purchased the wind farm from BayWa r.e. Wind LLC for $143 million.
“I talked to a NorthWestern (official), and they purchased the Beethoven site because it fit into their portfolio. They need so much ‘green’ energy,” said Bon Homme County Commission Chairman Russ Jelsma.
Beethoven would be grandfathered under the passage of a new Bon Homme County wind energy ordinance, Brunken said.
Now, the proposed Prevailing Winds farm would be constructed near the Beethoven operation in Charles Mix and Bon Homme counties, according to Prevailing Winds president Ronnie Hornstra of Avon. The wind farm could generate 200 megawatts of energy, he said.
Prevailing Winds would fall under a new Bon Homme wind energy ordinance, Brunken said.
“Article 17 was prompted when there was some discussion by a company that wanted to come in and install more wind towers,” she said. “There was some discussion by people who were not in favor of it, so the zoning board chose to review the zoning ordinance and try to work with it.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, passage of the proposed ordinance requires a simple majority of the commissioners, Brunken said. The action requires a roll call vote.
Brian McGinnis with the District III Planning and Development office in Yankton has worked with Bon Homme County officials on drafting the proposed wind energy ordinance, Brunken said.
Last week, the commissioners unanimously approved the first reading of Article 17. The commission consists of Jelsma, Mike Soukup, John Fathke, John Hauck and Duane Bachmann.
The vote came after 1 hour and 40 minutes of public testimony. The meeting was moved to the courtroom to accommodate the nearly 100 persons who packed the room.
The main point at last week’s hearing dealt with setbacks for wind farms. The ordinance calls for setbacks of 1,000 feet near residences and 500 feet near property lines.
Opponents indicated they wanted stricter regulations, including longer setbacks, if not an outright ban on wind farms.
In the end, the commissioners voted to approve the ordinance as recommended by the county zoning board.
The public testimony brought a wide range of data and opinion, with the discussion becoming passionate at times.
The commissioners noted a wind farm could be constructed even with passage of the ordinance, but the county would have some controls with a wind ordinance. Without Article 17, wind developers would need only a conditional-use permit, the commissioners added.
Discussion was held on possibly changing the proposed 1,000 feet setback to 1,500 feet.
The Bon Homme County Commissioners could decide to amend the ordinance to 1,500 feet at the second reading, according to McGinnis.
The county could also decide to amend the ordinance at any other time down the line, he added.
If the commissioners give Article 17 its second reading and approval, it must be published twice in the county’s designated newspapers for legal publications.
The ordinance then goes into effect 20 days later, according to Kea Warne, the South Dakota deputy secretary of state for elections. The 20-day period begins on the day after the completed publication. State law contains some exceptions allowing for immediate implementation of legislation.
The wind energy ordinance could be suspended if referred to the ballot during that 20-day period, Warne said. Opponents can begin circulating petitions immediately upon final passage of the measure.
Petitions would need to contain a number of valid signatures amounting to at least 5 percent of the active registered voters in the county during the last preceding general election.
Bon Homme County had 3,878 active registered voters in the 2014 general election. Based on that figure, petition circulators would need to collect at least 194 valid signatures.
Given the current timetable, the wind energy ordinance would go into effect in December, Brunken said. However, she knows a referral process would be undertaken with Article 17’s passage, likely delaying its implementation.
“We have residents who said they already want to start circulating petitions,” the auditor said.
The Bon Homme County commissioners alluded to the controversy during their last meeting.
“I hate to see neighbors against neighbors,” Jelsma said.
However, Bon Homme County needs to address the issue in some way, he said.
“Right now, anyone can build a wind tower (in the county) with a conditional use permit,” he said. “Article 17 gives us more of a say.”
Bon Homme County can’t stop wind tower construction within its borders, Jelsma said.
“Whether we adopt Article 17 to our zoning (ordinance) makes no difference,” he said. “If we don’t have it, they can still build it.”
Hauck saw the issue as one of economic development. “I’ve sat on this (county commission) for seven years, waiting for growth to come to Bon Homme County, and I haven’t seen it,” he said.
Hauck alluded to the stalled progress on a proposed grain-handling facility involving Dakota Plains. The company was looking at a Tabor site but has resumed talks with Yankton County on a location for the proposed project.
“When we were talking with Dakota Plains, it was amazing how much negativity came out of the woodwork,” Hauck said. “I hate what I see happening with (this division) between people (over wind farms). But unless some big manufacturing plant moves here, we can’t keep turning everyone down.”
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