Lance Koth made it crystal clear that a new grassroots group in Davison County in South Dakota isn’t against the concept of wind energy. They just prefer turbines find the right home.
The group is called Citizens for Responsible Development, a small nonprofit organization made up of a core team of approximately 15 to 20 people interested in wind energy systems.
“We’re not against wind energy at all, it’s just a matter of we felt that it’s important for us as a group to give to the Planning Commission the resulting proposed ordinance that we feel comfortable with based upon all the research that we’ve done over the last number of months,” Koth said.
Koth is a Mitchell, S.D., resident, and he happens to be one of two candidates for the two open South Dakota House of Representatives seats in District 20 – which consists of Aurora, Davison and Jerauld counties. And he and Gene Stehly, of Davison County, recently pitched a wind energy systems ordinance to the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
The proposed ordinance is set to be discussed at the April 3 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, and it would fill a void in the county’s current zoning ordinance. That void was established because people like Stehly loudly opposed a series of proposals – including a 1,000-foot setback between turbines and non-participating homes – about one year ago.
Koth said the group’s proposal, which will be unveiled to the public in full in April, would be a good starting point if the county ever pursued a new series of wind ordinances.
“There’s a lot of elements in there,” Koth said, citing setbacks and turbine decommissioning guidelines the group proposed.
As of March 12, Davison County Planning and Zoning Administrator Jeff Bathke hadn’t read the proposal in full, but he did turn to the portion of the proposal which is certain to be the most widely discussed.
The proposed one-mile setback has been mentioned in the county for years, with some tossing out the number as far back as 2016. In 2016, many of the same opponents to the 2017 setback proposal opposed a plan to install 9 to 11 turbines in rural Davison County. The 2016 proposal was denied.
But Bathke, who said he is neutral on the installation of wind energy systems in county limits, doesn’t think a one-mile setback makes sense. And he’s got the map to back it up.
“We have it on our website of what one-mile setbacks look like, and there’s just very tiny little places you could put one here and you could put one there,” Bathke said. “And there’s two things with wind towers: They have to be fairly close together so you can connect them, and they have to be fairly close to a transmission line so you can connect it to the power grid.”
So if the Planning and Zoning Commission, and ultimately the Davison County Commission, see fit to approve a one-mile setback, Bathke suggests simply barring wind energy systems altogether since there would be virtually zero viable places to put one.
All that said, Bathke believes the existing conditional use permit system is working well. The plan in place now allows the five-person Davison County Commission to make each wind energy system decision on a case-by-case basis.
“It actually isn’t a bad thing to leave it the way it is, because if you had a certain setback and they don’t meet that criteria, they can’t even get past the first step,” Bathke said. “But the way it is now, the county can look at each individual project.”
While the existing ordinance might be fine for now, Koth said Citizens for Responsible Development has widespread support.
“Beyond (the core group) we probably have literally dozens of people that we’re aware of that – I don’t want to use the word petition – but they would put their name on the line that, ‘This is how we feel,’ ” Koth said.
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