Jan Krull and her husband, Ross, run 200 Black Angus cows on 2,000 acres of grass south of Harrold, South Dakota and she is all for wind energy.
“I love windmills,” she said Monday in the Hughes County courthouse in Pierre.
“We have an old wooden one on the ranch. It doesn’t work anymore.” But the 20-foot tall weathered old windmill is a sort of ornament of history on the prairie that she treasures.
Krull also is looking ahead to windmills of a more modern design. Ones with towers soaring 220 feet or more above the grass, with blades that are 140 feet long, maybe.
She and Ross Krull and several other landowners attended the Hughes County Commission meeting on Monday for a public hearing.
They are two of several ranchers and farmers in eastern Hughes County and western Hyde County who have leased land to Infinity Renewables, a Santa Barbara, California company planning to develop two wind farms south of Harrold.
The Hughes County Commission heard recently about Infinity making deals with landowners and had one landowner contact the Commission worried about whether county ordinances protected landowners well, said County Manager Kevin Hipple.
Krull retired two years ago from a job with the state Department of Transportation in which she acquired right-of-way easements from landowners so the state could facilitate transportation.
So she knows about negotiating for such rights.
“We have leased them six quarters,” she said of her being on the other side of the negotiating table with Dave Mabene, land agent for Infinity Renewables, who was doing the buying in leasing 960 acres from the Krulls for the company to place the big wind turbines.
On Monday, after a short public hearing in front of a packed room, the five-man Commission voted to put a six-month moratorium on any wind-energy development until county officials can study and probably tweak the ordinances.
They were written eight or nine years ago and things have changed, said Commission Chairman Norm Weaver.
Looking at what other counties are doing, especially increasing the “setbacks,” or distances between the tall turbines and any homes, roads or other things already around, is a good idea, said Weaver and other commissioners.
Commissioner Tom Tveit said he’s informed by the experience of a relative who has a cattle operation in North Dakota and had a wind-energy company build a big turbine right in the middle of a new and expensive cattle gate the man had just installed.
“That’s not being a good neighbor,” Tveit said.
However, he also does not want to stand in the way of economic development and wants the county to move fast on updating its zoning ordinances for wind farms, Tveit said, as he moved to authorize the six-month moratorium.
Mabene told the Commission that Infinity Renewables is cool with that.
“Six months is not going to really make a difference to us,” he told the Commission. “We will not be able to move on these projects within a six-month time frame.”
He and Christine White, a project developer for Infinity, attended the public hearing to find out how they can help, Mabene said.
“We are here to hear what everyone has to say. We are not necessarily opposed to a moratorium if that’s what you think you need to do to make reasonable changes,” he said. “We want to offer ourselves up to be a part of that. . .. We’ve got experience from Dakota down to Texas in wind development and got a lot of miles under our belt. We’re here to offer assistance.”
Started up several years ago as Infinity Wind, the company’s founders say they wanted to focus on the startup process of wind farms. Especially, they said, in acquiring land right-of-way, or easements, for the wind turbines, and in building relationships with landowners, nearby residents and local government officials to avoid the conflicts that often arise in such developments.
Infinity has worked on several projects in several states in the middle section of the country, said White.
They include the Sunflower wind farm of 52 turbines that is near Hebron, North Dakota, 60 miles west of Bismarck on the north side of Interstate 94. Sunflower began generating power a few months ago. Infinity is eager to develop two projects south of Harrold because “this is where the wind blows,” White said of the Dakotas.
In 2016, the 974 wind turbines standing and turning – on windy days, anyway – across South Dakota, generated 3.1 million megawatt hours of electrical power, said Darren Kearney, a utilities analyst for the state’s Public Utilities Commission.
That was 36 percent of the “plated capacity,” or total potential power of the wind generators if they turned all the time.
Wind turbines are getting more efficient and now many of the newer and bigger ones average 45 percent or better of their plated capacity, Kearney said.
In 2015, 26 percent of the electrical power generated in the state came from wind; while 50 percent came from hydroelectric dams, 16 percent came from coal and 8 percent came from natural gas, Kearney said.
Last year, 30 percent of the electrical power generated in the state came from wind turbines and 39 percent from hydroelectric sources.
Talking to landowners on Monday, Mebane said Infinity Renewables – which changed to a more expansive name when it added solar energy projects a few years ago – tries to take into account the concerns of landowners and residents near their sites, even if the landowners are not receiving any easement like their neighbors who do lease land to Infinity.
“The last thing we want to do is create bad blood between anybody,” he said.
So Infinity “sets back” wind turbines 1,400 feet from any residence, farther than many government regulations require, he said.
Many complaints are voiced about the giant windmills, across the state and nationally, Lee McCurrin, the county’s new planning and zoning director, told the Commission.
The issues often raised include the noise, the flickering shadows for anyone living close to one, as well as dangers to birds and bats and other reported effects of the huge electrical generating plants.
“I am really not concerned,” Jan Krull said. Infinity seems to have the right ideas about how to design a wind farm to avoid many of the reported problems, she said.
Meanwhile, the money paid to landowners for leasing the land to Infinity is a good deal, she said.
White said the company doesn’t make public what it pays landowners. Krull said she and her husband are satisfied with the deal she negotiated with Infinity. It’s especially timely for ranchers and farmers dealing with lowering prices for crops and cattle compared to a few years ago.
“Right now, Hughes County is very dry,” she said.
That means the same amount of pasture and rangeland can’t support as many cattle, meaning “we might have to reduce our herds.”
As for the money for the wind-turbine easements, “I think some of these ranchers are looking at it as part of their retirement,” she said. “Anyway, it can help us get through tough times and get us to a better day.”
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