Lincoln County planners effectively voted to ban wind development Monday by requiring a 1-mile setback for turbines and noise rules wind backers call unattainable.
The zoning recommendations represent a major victory for opponents of Dakota Power Community Wind’s effort to create the largest industrial wind project in the state.
The changes from the planning commission now go to the full county commission, where elected officials could either approve, deny or alter them. A first reading will take place Nov. 1; a second reading Nov. 22.
The vote on the 1-mile setback distance between towers and homes drew cheers from turbine opponents, who spilled out of the Canton commission hall and into the hallway of the Lincoln County courthouse for the three-hour meeting.
Cindy Thomas, a retired nurse and member of We-Care SD, a group that’s organized against the wind project since early 2015, said the planning commission made the right decisions on sound restrictions and setbacks from homes.
“Both of those things are very important for health,” Thomas said. “I’m just ecstatic they have erred on the side of caution.”
Backers were significantly less impressed.
The investors urged commissioners to rely on peer-reviewed research they offered that cites no negative impact on health or property values. They urged them to look to the rules used by other states, European countries and Australia, none of which found any scientific rationale for a 1-mile “safe distance.”
The commission arrived at Monday’s meeting with a proposal that would have increased setbacks from homes to five times the distance of a wind turbine – less than half of what the seven-member body ultimately passed 4-3.
Brian Minish, a Lincoln County resident and backer of DPCW, said the message was clear.
“At a mile, you won’t have any wind farms in Lincoln County,” he said.
Commissioners also voted to reduce the sound levels to 30 decibels from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. and 35 decibels through the day at the property line of any neighbor.
Minish said the initially-offered 40-decibel limit – less sound than a refrigerator, he said – would be very difficult to attain for even the quietest of turbines.
He said 108 landowners backed the project but that they had been advised not to appear in Canton for fear of backlash.
The backers who did appear were vastly outnumbered.
The opponents, many of whom wore anti-turbine stickers or buttons, stood outside the courthouse with petitions prior to the meeting and filled the commission room and the hallway through the evening, where a television and speakers were set up to broadcast to the overflow crowd.
They told commissioners that turbine sound is different in character from a steady appliance hum, more dangerous and potentially damaging.
Thomas said infrasound – sound below the perceivable frequencies – can cause high blood pressure, hypertension and a host of other issues for those who live near wind farms. She compared the wind energy industry to the tobacco industry during debate over sound restrictions, saying the industry is “silencing sick people.”
“This is the same thing, guys,” she said.
Jennifer Fischer told commissioners that industrial wind turbines don’t deserve a place in a rural residential haven of Lincoln County. Fischer spoke several times about her property and her family’s history in agriculture. She began by putting up a picture of wind turbines along a gravel road.
“I shouldn’t have to raise my family around that,” Fischer said.
Commissioner Ron Albers said he understood that Lincoln County already has restrictive ordinances for wind, but that he’s not comfortable with a 1,200 or 1,500-foot setback.
“Our county is the fastest-growing county in the state and one of the fastest growing in the country, per capita,” Albers said.
Commissioner Darwin Sogn voted for the 1-mile setback and later amended the noise ordinance to the lower level, saying he’s sensitive to sounds himself.
“This is just as important as the setback being a mile,” Sogn said.
Rob Johnson of DPCW said the votes were a rejection of sound science in favor of a vocal opposition, and one that could harm the tax base if elected officials let stand.
“They won, and the taxpayers in Lincoln County will be the ones who suffer,” Johnson said.