TYNDALL – In the wake of local controversy, Bon Homme County wind farms may face new regulations.
The Bon Homme County Commission has unanimously passed a wind energy measure as part of its zoning ordinance. The county currently doesn’t address wind farms.
The measure, known as Article 17, received is second reading and final approval at Tuesday’s regular meeting. Commissioners Russ Jelsma, John Hauck, Duane Bachmann, Mike Soukup and John Fathke voted for the measure.
The newly-constructed Beethoven wind farm near Tripp will be grandfathered under the new zoning regulations. The proposed Prevailing Winds project, scheduled for a nearby site, will fall under Article 17.
Hauck raised the only concerns expressed by commissioners during Tuesday’s meeting. “I’m not a fan or supporter (of wind farms),” he said.
But in the end, Hauck not only supported Article 17 but brought it to a vote among the commissioners. He previously said he saw wind energy as badly-needed economic development, particularly after Bon Homme County lost out on a proposed grain-handling facility.
“I’ll make the motion (for Article 17), even though I don’t want to see (wind farms),” he said.
Article 17 legal notices will now run two weeks in the county’s newspapers designated for legal publications. The measure then becomes effective after a 20-day period, in this case Dec. 9.
However, Article 17 can be referred to the ballot – and put on hold – by petitions containing 194 valid signatures. Opponents could start circulating petitions immediately after Tuesday’s passage of Article 17. If referred, the measure would then be placed on the ballot in a special election.
The Beethoven wind farm lies in Bon Homme, Hutchinson and Charles Mix counties. In September, NorthWestern Energy finalized its purchase of the Beethoven wind project. NorthWestern purchased the wind farm from BayWa r.e. Wind LLC for $143 million.
The Prevailing Winds project would be located in Bon Homme and Charles Mix counties. The wind farm could generate a maximum capacity of 200 megawatts.
In terms of the wind farms, Bon Homme County differs from its neighbors, said Brian McGinnis with the District III Planning and Development office in Yankton.
“Charles Mix County has no zoning, and Hutchinson County has no problem with (the wind farms),” said McGinnis, who has worked with Bon Homme County on Article 17.
The Bon Homme County controversy was seen in the Oct. 20 commissioners’ meeting, which gave the first reading to Article 17.
The meeting was moved to the Bon Homme County courtroom to accommodate the nearly 100 persons who packed the room. The commissioners heard 100 minutes of testimony.
The commissioners pointed out that wind farm promoters can currently seek construction with only a conditional-use permit. The wind energy measure would allow the county to put some regulations in place, the commissioners added.
The main point of the Oct. 20 meeting dealt with setbacks for wind farms. Article 17 calls for setbacks of 1,000 feet near residences and 550 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.
GIVING FINAL APPROVAL
In contrast, Tuesday’s commission meeting attracted only about a half-dozen people for the second reading and final approval. No one spoke against the proposed measure.
However, Hauck asked the Prevailing Winds developers to make concessions on certain items as a peace offering to opponents. He cited the desire to calm some of the rift created by the wind farm controversy.
“Would it be hard on you (developers) to look at a setback one mile from residences?” Hauck asked.
“That would create a huge problem,” responded Prevailing Winds project manager Roland Jurgens.
He explained the challenges such a restriction would place on the project.
“If you have a mile setback, they will be very limited in where they can set the wind turbines,” he said.
Prevailing Winds – and wind farms in general – require flexibility, Jurgens said.
“The (fewer) restrictions you place on the project, the more places we can put the turbines and supporting light systems,” he said.
More regulations mean more expenses, which drives down the profitability and attractiveness of wind projects, Jurgens said.
“You need to build it, finance it, pay the local people, pay taxes and hope there’s a little left for the investors,” he said. “Every time you add new regulations and expenses, these (developers) get squeezed and the investors get a little less.”
The developers are just looking for a decent return on their investment, Jurgens said. “We’re not trying to get rich,” he said.
Hauck spoke of the concerns, particularly by neighbors, about wind turbines’ possible impact on health, the environment, and the surrounding landscape and quality of life.
In response, Jurgens noted technology has reduced the impact of lights, shadow flickers and sound.
In addition, the wind farms are subject to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, he said. “We have safety before anything,” he added.
The Prevailing Winds developers will adhere to any conditions placed by county officials in the zoning ordinance or conditional-use permit, Jurgens said.
However, he doesn’t look for it to satisfy opponents.
“They have a problem with Beethoven. If they can see (turbines) anywhere they look, they don’t like it,” he said. “That (setback) can be one mile or five miles.”
Prevailing Winds president Ronnie Hornstra of Avon, who also worked with the Beethoven project, agreed.
“With Beethoven, we did everything we could to be friendly,” he said.
Hauck acknowledged the opposition. “Some want a 2-1/2 mile setback,” he said.
SETTING THE RULES
McGinnis informed the commissioners they can pass the wind energy ordinance and still make changes down the line.
“The ordinance sets the base. You can control a project with a conditional-use permit,” he said. “The ordinance will be the general rule. With the conditional-use permit, you can be project specific.”
However, he warned against becoming too restrictive. That’s especially true if tailoring regulations to satisfy particular neighbors who don’t want nearby wind farms.
“You can set individual setbacks for the project owner,” he said. “If you do it for the property owners -— that gets tricky.”
The commissioners also need to realize the primary purpose of setbacks, McGinnis said. “The setback is a safety issue. You don’t do it for sight and sound. It’s there for safety, if the turbine falls down,” he said.
Unlike the 80-megawatt Beethoven project, the 200-megawatt Prevailing Winds project would require Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approval, McGinnis said. The PUC oversight applies to wind farms generating more than 100 megawatts.
“The PUC may change things after its hearing,” McGinnis said.
The three-member PUC would hold public hearings before acting on a proposed wind farm, he added. If the PUC gives its approval, the wind farm would come back to the county level for final action.
The Prevailing Wind promoters have been open about their plans and intentions, McGinnis said. “As far as these developers, they’ve been pretty straightforward,” he added.
The Bon Homme County commissioners talked about the growing number of wind farms not only in South Dakota but in surrounding states.
Hauck added his hope that the current rift among Bon Homme County residents surrounding wind farms will eventually subside.
“There is a tremendous amount of negativity,” he said. “I want to see people get along.”
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