Voters upheld rules for wind turbine setbacks on Tuesday that renewable energy boosters say will stop all wind energy development in Lincoln County.
The vote was 57-42 percent in favor of a requirement that all turbines be placed at least a half mile from all habitable dwellings in the county.
Heavy turnout from southern Lincoln County was the deciding factor, with universal support for the stricter setbacks in every city south of Tea, and the precincts closest to the proposed footprint of a 150-turbine project saw turnouts of up to 57 percent – rare for a special election.
All but one Sioux Falls precinct voted in favor of wind backers, but turnouts were far lower, hovering between three and 15 percent.
The vote caps nearly three years of debate on the value of wind energy for Lincoln County, where a group of investors called Dakota Power Community Wind hopes to build at least 150 turbines that would produce 300 megawatts of electricity.
Opponents of the project cited concerns for property values, potential health effects and damage to the urban landscape as reasons to reject large-scale wind energy development.
Winnie Peterson, spokeswoman for the project’s opponents, said the turnout and successful vote was the payoff from years of organizing.
“We spent three years sharing information that the other side denied,” Peterson said. “We have shown a whole lot of people in this state how the process is supposed to work.”
Supporters spoke of clean energy, payments to landowners on whose properties the turbines would be placed and tax revenues of $25 million over the course of 25 years.
Dakota Power Community Wind commissioned a poll of Lincoln County residents that showed a majority supporting wind energy development.
“We still believe that the majority of the people in the county support it, but they didn’t come out to express it,” said DPCW’s Brian Minish. “They got the vote out, we didn’t.”
Minish said DPCW’s board hasn’t made any decisions on the next step for the project, which he’s said in the past would be unworkable with a half mile setback.