Lincoln County officials will soon vote on a set of regulations that could severely shrink a project pitched as South Dakota’s largest commercial wind farm.
County officials punted on a zoning ordinance revamp for wind towers last year, but the planning commission will return to the issue at 7 p.m. Monday in Canton.
The five revisions up for discussion could push a decision point on an energy proposal that’s spurred intense debate in the county. The most significant change would require wind developers to leave a space five times the height of each tower between turbines and neighboring homes.
Five times the tower height would amount to more than 2,000 feet for 2.5-megawatt towers.
Opponents of Dakota Power Community Wind’s project say the setback distance isn’t far enough to protect landowners, but company representatives will likely argue that the distance requirement would force it to reevaluate the project altogether.
“If it stays at five times (the height of the tower), that really disheartens us,” said Rob Johnson of project partner Dakota Plains Energy. “That affects us tremendously. At a certain point, you have to make decisions.”
The project has already shrunk from its initial size of 400 to 500 turbines, Johnson said, largely as a result of data from meteorological towers placed last year. There’s less wind strength in northern Lincoln County.
“We have basically decided to avoid the northern part of Lincoln County,” Johnson said.
Ninety of the project’s 170 investors are Lincoln County residents, Johnson said. Dakota Power has yet to take out an application for a single turbine, but the appearance of the test towers and the possibility of a massive wind farm in the future ignited a fierce preemptive opposition among a group of landowners.
Winnie Peterson of the group We-Care SD has encouraged members to express their continuing concerns.
Opponents want setbacks of at least a mile and stronger restrictions on noise levels. The rules would allow up to 60 decibels of sound outside a dwelling, which is higher than the World Health Organization’s 2009 target range of 40 decibels for undisturbed sleep.
“This is a step in the right direction, but they haven’t stepped far enough,” Peterson said. “We don’t believe the setback is adequate.”
We-Care SD has also raised concerns about property values, reclamation bonds for towers at the end of their usable life and about the potential impact on shadow flicker from turbines.
Peterson worries that the buyers of DPCW could still build in northern Lincoln County and that homes in south Sioux Falls would see turbines from their homes. She also doubts that a five-times setback would kill the project.
“I don’t believe for a minute that it will make it impossible to build in Lincoln County,” Peterson said.
The wind industry rejects opponent claims conclusions on property values and health effects, dismissing claims of “wind turbine syndrome” as junk science and pointing to wide-ranging studies on property values that suggest little or no impact.
There’s no sound science suggesting towers closer than 2,000 feet from a home cause health problems or property value losses, Johnson said.
“There’s a certain group out there that just don’t want to see these things,” he said.
We-Care SD, meanwhile, rejects pro-wind studies as industry-backed falsehoods and has offered its own research to county officials.
The planning commission’s decision on the wind turbine rules will not be final, regardless of whose studies prove persuasive.
If approved, the zoning revisions would go to the full county commission for approval, denial or revision. The rules would be finalized in a second reading.
“The county commission would pass the ordinance,” said Toby Brown, Lincoln County planning director.