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Wind power company meets opposition on Lake Cochrane

LAKE COCHRANE, S.D. – The attempt by a London, England, company to build a wind farm in Yellow Medicine County is meeting resistance from a small community just across the South Dakota border

The resistance to the project by Renewable Energy Systems (RES) has rang all the way to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission who may be issuing the permits.

“We’re in the midst of negotiating with RES,” said Ron Ruud, current president of the Lake Cochrane Improvement Association. “If they agree to our requests, we will no longer oppose the project.”

On the other hand, if enough pushback is felt, as it was in the past, the whole project could be scrapped, affecting YMC property owners who hope to generate a second income from the turbine placement.

Ruud said there are several Lake Cochrane residents who still claim Minnesota as their primary residence. He, himself, had grown up in Minnesota and lived and worked in southwest Minnesota.

The request is that RES and the MPUC respect and honor the ordinance that requires wind tower setbacks to be at least 3 miles away from the water.

One of the objections that Ruud presented was that the proposed turbines are 14 feet higher than the Crazy Horse Memorial.

“These turbines are 3.5 megawatts, the largest to be installed in the area,” Ruud said. “Those in Toronto top out at about 400 feet.”

“At two miles, we shouldn’t hear them, but cloudy days push the sound down,” Ruud said.

“(RES) tried six years ago, but were pushed away,” said James Ekholm, another resident on the lake and past president of the Lake Cochrane Improvement Association. “They came back 2-1/2 years ago and wanted to build. We asked them to hold off while we updated our ordinances.”

“In Deuel County, the zoning board sent them away saying we have to redo our ordinances,” Ruud said.

The power company had also received pushback from the lake improvement association. Since then, the lake residents have adopted the nickname “NIMBYs,” which is an acronym for “Not In My Back Yard.”

NIMBYs have learned that wind turbines in the vicinity tend to lower property values. One rural resident of Deuel County reported last year that he had tried to sell his property, but, even as pristine as it was, he could not sell it because there was a turbine too close to his building site.

Deuel County is in South Dakota, but just barely. The invisible state line goes right between Canby and Deuel County, with a mere 6-8 miles between Canby and Lake Cochrane.

Property owners who want to work with the energy company and give it permission to build on their property often do not live on the premises, Ruud said.

There is one owner who was disappointed that the company was unable to erect a turbine on one of the selected spots on his property, Ekholm said. That person, Paul Westphal lives in Orange, Texas, and his brother, Harley Westphal, stood to make $20,000 per year once the turbine was in use, he said.

“I and my brother own the property that was chosen as the T1 site and we are very disappointed that the DNR have chosen to eliminate it due to the proximity to the wetlands,” he wrote to the MPUC earlier this month. “I see wildlife adjusting to urban develop(ment) all over the country so I fail to see how wildlife would have any problem adjusting to a wind turbine in a rural setting. And I have stopped along the road near wind turbines and have not noticed enough noise to disrupt wildlife activity.”

His letter also stated that he did not believe the three-mile setback being asked by the area residents was a legitimate reason to remove the T1 location from the project.

“I believe it is a fear of something new they do not fully understand,” Westphal wrote. “We would like you to please reconsider your views on this matter and put the T1 location back in the project.”

County and city governments also welcome the energy companies because it means additional tax revenue for them as well as additional patronage for the local businesses.

The best case scenario would be if such energy companies would hire several local laborers so that even more of the monies generated by the turbine construction would stay in the area.

That’s where Lucas Franco and iluma, a work force analysis company, come in.

“We are especially concerned about the developer’s track record of a reliance on non-local workers,” Franco said. “Without a clear commitment to employing local workers, the regional economy will miss out on millions in local economic impact.”

“The good news is Tenasko (developer of Nobles 2) agreed to quarterly workforce reporting, which will include information about the level of local versus non-local workers used on Nobles 2 wind farm,” Franco said.

“We believe this is a very important first step, as more information about local versus non-local hiring will help policy makers in southern Minnesota better understand how they can work to maximize local benefits on new wind farm construction,” he said.

RES was started in 1982 as part of the Sir Robert McAlpine group of engineering and construction companies. It is a global renewable energy company based in London, England, which has been active in the renewable energy industry for over 30 years.