CLEAR LAKE – The Deuel County Planning and Zoning Board recommended several wind tower ordinance changes to the Deuel County Commission Monday night, including increasing the setback ordinance from 1,000 to 1,500 feet on non-participating land.
The recommendations add another chapter to a saga that began last fall when Flying Cow, LLC, proposed putting up 14 wind turbines near Lake Cochrane on the eastern edge of Deuel County, a project that drew intense opposition from lake residents and was rejected by a 3-2 vote at October’s zoning board meeting. Since then, the board has heard arguments from both sides about the possibility of changing the ordinances adopted about a decade ago, culminating with Monday’s decision.
According to Zoning Board President Dennis Kanengieter, the 1,500-foot setback reflects the distance that many wind turbine companies already adhere to. To help reach that conclusion, board members visited a wind farm already located in the southern part of the county as well as Brookings County. According to Kanengieter, those visits prompted members to determine that a 1,500-foot setback minimizes the noise that may heard by non-participating residents, but not so far as to discourage economic development.
“If you want economic development in a county for wind farms, but you get too much of a setback on that, it’s not going to be feasible for the (developers),” Kanengieter said. “It’s also another opportunity for a land owner to get the benefit financially out of the land he owns by harvesting the land.”
The board’s decision to recommend the setback increase was also made to help non-participants. That recognition toward non-participants was also displayed with the board’s decision to lower the maximum volume generated by the towers to 45 decibels while leaving the limit for participants at 50 decibels.
“We’re trying to adapt the ordinance to help the non-participating ones more than the participating ones,” Kanengieter said. “If you’ve got land signed up and you’re going to harvest some value off that wind tower, you’re not going to care if there’s a little bit of noise because you’re making some money off of it. The non-participating acreage people got to look at (the turbines) and hear them and they don’t get any financial gain out of it.”
The board also required that flicker effects – which occur when the sun’s glare bounces off a wind turbine, casting an intermittent shadow – occur no more than 30 hours annually. That rarely occurs most of the time, generally only for 15 or 20 minutes on a given morning or evening assuming the variables line up just right. That effect can be mitigated even further if towers are built at strategic locations in terms of geography and distance from residences.
Perhaps exemplifying the divided atmosphere that wind turbines have generated, the updated ordinance barely passed on a 3-2 vote. Kanengieter, Gary Jaeger, and Paul Brandt voted in favor of recommending the updated ordinance to the Deuel County Commission, while George Holborn and Mike Dahl voted against.
While the recommendation may not be unanimous, Kanengieter said the vote was a reflection of the long process each zoning board member took to get to that point.
“(Our votes) boiled down to what we thought was fair to both parties,” he said.
As of Thursday afternoon, County Auditor Pam Lynde said that the written recommendation has not yet been submitted, so a date on a decision by the county commission has yet to be determined.