The Hughes County leaders are considering changing the county’s “setback distances” which dictate how close to homes or roads anyone could erect a large, commercial wind turbine – or a whole farm of them.
On Monday, the County Commission discussed it briefly and set May 15 for a considering a six-month moratorium on erecting any large wind turbines while county planners and commissioners work out whether they need to amend county ordinances.
There are no wind farms or big wind turbines in the county, although one or two landowners have small private wind turbines for local power.
A landowner in the county recently notified county commissioners and planners that he had been approached by someone interested in erecting wind turbines, said County Manager Kevin Hipple.
A California company “is investigating a wind farm in eastern Hughes County,” according to a memo from Hipple to the County Commission.
The landowner is concerned that current county ordinances aren’t sufficiently protective of neighboring landowners and residents.
“He sent an email asking the county to consider increasing the required setbacks for windmills,” Hipple wrote.
Hughes County’s ordinance for the space needed for wind turbines is about 10 years old and based on state guidelines that are no longer considered germane by state officials, Hipple said.
The state mostly has decided that the local option is the key idea and the state’s Public Utilities Commission does not recommend any particular setback distances, or noise limits or lighting for wind turbines.
The circumstances of large, low-population, western counties are different enough from eastern urbanized counties that the same regulations may not make sense for both, or all, cases, Hipple said.
There is a state law requiring at least 500 feet of setback for a large wind turbine from neighboring land and residences.
But the PUC hears proposed wind farms on a case-by-case basis.
Several counties in the state are reviewing their ordinances on wind turbine erection and Hughes County could benefit by studying other ordinances, before changing its own, Commissioners said Monday.
Hipple said 14 counties have setbacks of 1,000 feet, one has a setback distance requirement of 1,300 feet and several counties have no setback requirements at all.
Many are concerned about how many birds and bats are killed by wind turbines, and the effect of the towers and the noise on wildlife and humans. Many also want more “clean” energy and to take advantage of the free winds blowing across South Dakota, which has about 600 wind turbines and hundreds more in the planning stages.
At the Commission’s next meeting at 5:30 p.m, May 15, the Commission plans to discuss putting a six-month hold on any wind turbine construction while the county’s planners decide on what the ordinances should require.
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