WAVERLY – As the application for the Dakota Range Wind project works its way through the levels of state government, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission hosted a public input hearing Wednesday evening at the Waverly/South Shore High School gymnasium for citizens to speak for and against the proposed 72-turbine 302.4-megawatt wind farm in northern Codington County as well as Grant County.
With approximately 40 people lined up to speak, PUC Chair Kristie Fiegen imposed a time limit of four minutes per commenter instead of the usual five in order to allow the meeting to adhere to a three-hour time frame.
In submitting its application to the PUC, Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville, Va., also outlined plans to construct five permanent meteorological towers, access roads, underground fiber optic cables and an operations and maintenance facility. ACE officials claim the towers would be able to power up to approximately 230,000 homes. The turbines would be spread out over approximately 44,500 acres.
By locating the towers in rural Codington and Grant counties, ACE officials plan to have the turbines connect to the 345-kilovolt transmission line running 163 miles from Big Stone City to Ellendale, N.D. That line is under construction.
According to ACE Senior Project Developer Mark Mauersberger, $39 million will be paid out in lease payments to participating landowners over a 25-year period.
During that same period, Mauersberger said Codington County would get $2 million in tax revenue while South Dakota as a whole would get $10.6 million. Mauersberger also said the Waverly/South Shore and Summit school districts would get $5.6 million and $7 million, respectively. Townships would also get some revenue.
Many project supporters cited the projected revenue boost as one of the reasons the PUC should approve it.
“Wind development would provide an annual income source for landowners and be essential to the survival of local farmers,” Tim Gapp, a Grant County landowner, said. “The income the landowners receive is a community-based model. That community-based model will provide income to all the landowners who are within the wind farm footprint. It’s not just a handful of folks. It goes to a larger share of folks who are within the area.”
Others, including area resident and Northern State University freshman Alexis Lau, argued that allowing the Dakota Range Wind project to be built would be beneficial to the environment.
“Compared to conventional energy, wind energy has very little negative impact on the environment. Wind energy is very safe and healthy. Wind energy will not contribute to any global warming so it will also benefit future generations,” Lau said.
On the flip side, some citizens argued that wind farms cause adverse health effects to those who live near them.
Citing a study, Ruby Holborn of Gary, S.D, said children living near wind turbines can experience sleep deprivation.
“This can have a negative effect on their cognitive learning skills for the rest of their lives,” Holborn said.
However, with Deuel County, where Gary is located, adopting new wind ordinances last year, Holborn claimed those ordinances favor wind developers at the expense of the county’s citizens.
According to Holborn, that is causing an exodus to other parts of the region and country where wind turbines are not present. That will include her and her husband, George, as they plan to move to Sioux Falls, thereby leaving what was once their dream retirement home.
Holborn’s thought was echoed by Waverly area resident Patrick Lynch.
“In the end, I think you’re going to end up with less people in your communities and you’re going to hurt small communities,” Lynch said.
After hearing Mauersberger saying ACE is voluntarily adhering to a two-mile setback from Punished Woman Lake near South Shore and has the support of the town and the Punished Woman Lake Association, Jamie Dolen, president of the lake association and South Shore town board member, disputed that. In fact, Dolen said, the lake association and South Shore would like to see a mandatory setback of three miles.
“We feel there is more than enough land for wind towers between going west from South Shore to Florence,” Dolen said.
With no official action on Wednesday’s agenda, Fiegen told the Public Opinion that the PUC will hold an evidence-based hearing at a later date. At least for part of that hearing, Fiegen said claims made Wednesday night will be researched to determine if they are factual or not.
Fiegen told the crowd near the beginning of the meeting the commission has a mid-July deadline whether to ultimately approve the Dakota Range Wind application or not. That mid-July deadline will coincide with the six month anniversary of the application’s submission.
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