TYNDALL – By approving three motions, the Bon Homme County Commission provided a major boost Tuesday to a proposed $297 million wind farm between Tripp and Avon.
The Prairie Wind Park would cover approximately 50,000 acres of land in Bon Homme, Charles Mix and Hutchinson counties. It would be located near the current Beethoven wind farm.
The commissioners’ approval of the three motions Tuesday didn’t mean they were approving the wind farm at this time. Instead, they decided the project was in compliance with the county zoning ordinance, which takes the process to the next level.
The commissioners were split in their votes. Commissioners Mike Soukup of Scotland, Russ Jelsma of Springfield and Duane Bachmann of Tyndall voted for all three motions. Commissioner Bruce Voigt of Avon abstained on all three measures.
Commissioner John Hauck of Tabor reiterated his strong opposition to the wind farm. He asked if he could approve certain motions at this time but still vote against the proposal on a final up-or-down vote.
“I am not in favor of these towers,” he said. “If I vote in favor of this (today), then down the line, do we have the chance to vote yes or no on these towers? If not, I have to vote no, from the start.”
In the end, Hauck voted no on two motions and yes on another one.
With Hauck’s opposition and Voigt’s abstentions, two motions received the minimum number of votes for passage.
The sPower renewable energy company owns and would operate the 30-year project. The plan calls for 61 turbines, each nearly 600 feet tall, producing a maximum total of about 220 megawatts of power.
The company would sell the electricity to North Dakota-based Basin Electric Power Cooperative.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners spoke at length with Brian McGinnis, a community development specialist with the District III Planning and Development office in Yankton. McGinnis walked the board through the needed action and wording for the Large Wind Energy System (LWES) permit.
The first motion said the Prevailing Wind Park is a permitted use under the county’s zoning ordinance.
The second motion said the project has supplied documents required for compliance with the zoning ordinance.
The third motion created the greatest discussion, including input from Prevailing Wind Park officials in attendance. The motion was rewritten several times to include all necessary conditions.
The motion directs the Bon Homme County zoning administrator to issue a building permit to Prevailing Wind Park upon meeting certain conditions.
The wind project must submit an energy facility permit and supporting conditions as issued by the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
The PUC has announced the timeline for its evidentiary hearing in Pierre and expects to make a final decision on Prevailing Wind by October.
In addition, Prevailing Wind Park must submit and receive approval of pre-construction filings required by Bon Homme County.
Hauck voted “no” on the first and third motions while casting a “yes” vote on the second motion.
McGinnis expressed surprise at Hauck’s “yes” vote and overall mixed actions on the issue. During the preceding discussion, McGinnis advised that Hauck explain any dissenting votes for the record.
“When push comes to shove, tell why you’re voting no. What’s missing (from the application)?” McGinnis asked.
Hauck said he believed the Prevailing Wind application is complete, but he doesn’t believe the wind farm is good for Bon Homme County. He also related what he considered negative reports about the wind industry.
“I read the (Prevailing Wind application), and I think they did their job. But it’s something I don’t believe in,” he said of wind farms.
Hauck brought up another objection on his part – not knowing the identity of current and future investors, including foreign ownership. In addition, he questioned whether wind energy is needed at all to meet domestic needs.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Avon resident Ed Van Gerpen provided passionate testimony in opposition to the project. Van Gerpen has been a vocal opponent of both the Beethoven and Prevailing Wind projects.
Van Gerpen, a former state legislator and former county commissioner, believed the wind turbines will harm area residents in terms of health and environment. He noted his family roots run deep in the Avon area, with family members ranging from 74 years to 6 months old.
Van Gerpen said he also sees the impact of the continued controversy on local residents. He noted the respective 300 and 200 audience members at PUC meetings in Avon in 2016 and earlier this summer.
“I see our community starting to split,” he said.
The PUC meetings brought strong emotions with speakers on both sides of the issue. In addition, wind farm supporters wore buttons while opponents created signs.
“Two years ago, the lawyer from Sioux Falls said the Prevailing Wind Park found considerable opposition to the project during the PUC hearing in Avon, considerable opposition,” Van Gerpen said.
“(Prevailing Wind project manager) Roland Jurgens said, ‘We don’t want to split the community, that (such a split) isn’t good for the community.’”
Jurgens attended Tuesday’s commission meeting. He provided information about remaining work on the permit process but didn’t respond to Van Gerpen’s comments.
In addition, he raised questions about companies and investors who erect the wind turbines but live nowhere near the wind farms and their impact.
Van Gerpen also gave anecdotes of what he considered unfair business practices against property owners who sign easements allowing wind farms.
“There’s going to be some unhappy farmers,” he said. “If I was the person who signed up all these people and the truth gets out, I would be looking for a house in south Texas. People can get angry when you take advantage of them.”
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