The Hughes County Commission is expecting a large crowd for the public hearing on Monday on proposed changes to county ordinances for wind farms in the county. The commission has moved the public hearing, which will take place at 5:40 p.m., Monday, Oct. 16, during the commission’s regular semi-monthly meeting, to the largest third-floor courtroom in the courthouse, because they know that the cozy commission room on the courthouse’s second floor won’t hold the numbers of interested citizens expected to show up for the hearing.
A California company, Infinity Renewables, is seeking to build a large wind farm involving dozens, perhaps more than 100, tall wind towers topped by generators, in eastern Hughes County.
Infinity Renewables, based in Santa Barbara, California, has wind and solar energy production projects. It has wind farms, usually in partnerships, in Kansas, Oklahoma, North Dakota and New Mexico, according to the company’s website. The company says it plans projects in South Dakota because of the state’s great wind resources.
In August, it announced a partnership with Target to supply wind-powered electricity to 150 Target stores from a proposed new wind farm in Kansas that it expects to have up and running about a year from now.
The proposed wind farm in Hughes County would not be completed for several years, Infinity Renewables’ representatives have said.
But the company has already inked agreements with a few landowners who say they welcome the annual payments of several thousands of dollars for allowing the company to use their land.
However, neighbors of landowners who have struck deals with Infinity also have attended meetings this year in the county – meetings of the county commission and the county planning commission – and made clear their concerns that the giant windmills could lessen their property’s value and pose problems for their work and health.
Representatives of Infinity Renewables have said not many details are certain yet about their proposed project, including how many windmills and how big they will be.
But generally, many wind turbines being installed in recent years are designed with a capacity to generate 2 megawatts in an hour at optimum conditions. They can stand more than 400-feet tall, including blades 150-feet long and towers 250-feet tall.
Because the wind isn’t constant, wind turbines are measured by how much of their “plated capacity,” or maximum capacity, is used and actually becomes electrical power. State officials say that in 2016, the 974 wind turbines operating in South Dakota produced 3.1 million megawatts per hour of electrical power, or 36 percent of the “plated capacity.”
When the Hughes County Commission learned of Infinity Renewables’ plans months ago, it decided to review its planning-and-zoning ordinances to makes sure they were up-to-date to deal with the usual controversies when such wind farms are proposed.
The county commission will be considering changes recommended by the county’s planning commission and is scheduled to to take a final vote on the changes after the hearing on Monday.
The proposed changes include:
Increasing the distance required from any residence to a wind tower/turbine from 1,000 feet to 1,400 feet, or slightly more than a quarter mile. Opponents in Hughes County to the proposed wind farm have said they want the distance to be one-half mile (2,640 feet) to one mile,( 5,280 feet.)
Infinity Renewable officials have said they don’t oppose the increased setbacks to 1,400 feet, but that setback requirements of a half-mile or more from residences would make the project practically impossible.
The proposed ordinance changes include giving the commission the ability to get better reporting on a wind-energy company’s “financial strength,” to help insure that companies can’t walk away from a wind farm and leave the giant structures standing across the landscape..
Opponents of the wind farm proposal have sent out emails urging people to attend Monday’s meeting and speak for larger setback distances and to mail messages to county officials about the issue.
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