The Lincoln County Commission punted any decisions on wind energy into 2017 on Tuesday night.
Instead of final passage of the three-quarter mile setbacks and low-decibel sound rules for commercial wind turbines they had agreed upon in November, commissioners voted to study the possibility of further refinement to their zoning rules.
The fate of a $600 million wind farm hangs in the balance of the commissioners’ decision, which will now come no sooner than February – more than two years after the idea first emerged.
Supporters of the Dakota Power Community Wind project say too strict a set of zoning rules would kill the project, but opponents argue that the current rules aren’t strict enough to protect health, safety and property values.
Both sides presented now-familiar arguments on Tuesday, but neither side convinced commissioners to take action.
Commissioner Jim Schmidt asked Planning Director Toby Brown to draft a proposal that would change the three-quarter mile setback to one based on the height of the tower, as newer towers might be taller or shorter than those currently on offer.
The vote to review Brown’s rewrite on Feb. 7 was 3-1 in favor, with Commissioner Mike Poppens voting no. They voted 4-0 to return to the issue of acceptable sound levels on the same date, in hopes of establishing a threshold of additional noise based on current ambient noise throughout the county.
Commissioner Jim Schmidt said the county’s voters deserve a decision that accounts for all the potential ripple effects of wind turbines.
“Every time we listen to testimony, it becomes a more complicated issue,” Schmidt said.
David Brouwer of Beresford, an opponent who regularly appears at wind-related zoning meetings, said he appreciates the opportunity to be heard, but also said he hopes to see an answer soon.
“I think the county’s getting anxious about it,” Brouwer said. “It needs to be finalized.”
Brian Minish of Dakota Power Community Wind also expressed some anxiousness at the lack of action, but said he feels more study is liable to benefit his company’s position.
“The science is on our side,” Minish said.
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