A planning panel approved tighter rules on wind farms in Hughes County this week and heard from a large crowd of interested people on the provisional decision.
The changes now will come before the county commission and will get another formal public hearing, before being encoded in the county’s ordinances.
About 30 people showed up Monday night as the county’s planning-and-zoning committee gave its final approval to earlier changes that it had discussed, said County Manager Kevin Hipple. He provides staff support to the planning panel made up of County Commission Chairman Norm Weaver and six county citizens.
The planning-and-zoning panel recommended to the county commission that it increase the setbacks of wind towers to 1,400 feet from any residence, from the current 1,000-foot setback. It also recommended prohibiting any wind-farm development in county land zoned as “agricultural B.”
That would keep any new wind farms from being built on land along the Missouri River and near residential developments such as the Gray Goose area, Hipple said.
Because of the ramped-up interest recently in wind-energy production, county officials decided early this year to revise county ordinances. Especially after a California company announced plans to build wind turbines in the eastern side of the county.
Infinity Renewables has struck deals with several landowners who said they are eager to have the company erect perhaps 150 to 200 towers supporting turbines and blades that would rise 400 to 500 feet over the prairie to produce 2 to 3 megawatts per hour, by “plated capacity” – of electricity from the wind. Infinity representatives, who attended Monday’s meeting, said their plans are far from complete and no power production is expected for another two years or more. But it’s a live issue, county officials know: On Wednesday, Xcel Energy – based in Minneapolis and still doing business as Northern States Power – announced plans to build a new 300-megawatt-capacity wind farm on 40,000 acres about 20 miles north of Watertown, South Dakota.
The Dakota Range project in Codington County will create $37 million dollars in property taxes and $62 million in payments to landowners over the life of the project, Xcel officials said on Wednesday in a news release.
That economic potential makes such wind farms attractive, but such projects also have downsides and are opposed by many, Hughes County leaders know.
It appeared that most of the people who showed up on Monday for the planning-and-zoning meeting favored the Infinity wind-farm proposal, Hipple said.
But others, including neighbors of some Hughes County landowners who said they have signed easements with Infinity, are against it.
Michael Bollweg spoke again about his concerns, as he did at a July planning-and-zoning commission meeting.
The damage done to his family’s hunting-lodge business by having windmills dotting the landscape around their land, will cost him far more than any recompense that Infinity might make, Bollweg has told the Capital Journal.
He said his family turned down Infinity’s offer of $10,000 to $15,000 per year for each of 10 wind towers that the company wanted to place on about 2,500 acres of their land.
Infinity officials don’t comment on details about their deals with landowners.
Bollweg has said he would rather see setbacks set at a half-mile from residences, similar to a recent new rule in an eastern South Dakota county.
But that would make it practically impossible for Infinity to find enough sites for wind towers, company officials have said.
The new 1,400-foot setback rule, while not their first choice, is something they can live with, Christina White, an Infinity spokeswoman, has said.
The planning-and-zoning commission’s changes now will come to the county commission, which will consider them in a first reading on Monday, Oct. 2 and likely follow up with a public hearing and final consideration on Oct. 16, Hipple said.
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