Consolidated Edison Development, a company based out of New York, is beginning phase two of their construction of a wind farm in Campbell County, South Dakota. This new addition to the existing wind farm project is raising questions from land owners and causing county commissioners to work on writing a zoning ordinance to help regulate the wind farm’s expansion.
The existing 55 wind turbines were constructed in 2015-16 and all electricity generated by the towers, by contract, goes to Basin Electric Power Cooperative.
In the summer of 2018, Campbell County found out that phase 2 of the wind farm—which means additional towers covering additional acres to expand the plant—would be in the near future. In response, county commissioners passed a resolution to begin writing a zoning ordinance.
According to South Dakota state law, counties cannot adopt zoning ordinances unless they have a comprehensive plan put in place for county development. At the beginning of this process, Campbell County had neither a comprehensive plan nor a zoning ordinance, so they began working on an emergency zoning ordinance without first writing the comprehensive plan.
To assist with planning, the commissioners hired a professional to help them from North East Council of Government out of Aberdeen, SD, but the public hasn’t seen the ordinance until recently.
According to Andrew Van Kuren, Campbell County Economic Development Coordinator, “The commissioners are going about it in a correct manner; in other words, they’re taking their time, they’re doing their research, they’re applying zoning to all aspects of the county not just the wind farms.”
David Ganje, an energy & natural resources attorney from Rapid City, SD, has a different opinion. After reviewing the zoning ordinance that the commissioners are presenting, he believes that it is “utterly inadequate.”
In two letters to the county commissioners, Ganje outlines what he believes to be problematic issues with the proposed 99-page ordinance. According to Ganje, the proposed ordinance does not require developing companies to have liability insurance or to share their site maps and development plans with the public, wind towers are to be set back further from towns than from rural residences, county roads and other resources are not protected, and there are no industry standards to guide the “construction, operation, or demolition of a wind farm project.”
Ganje explained that he is “not opposed to wind energy and not against wind towers,” but his criticism lies in that it took the commissioners 6 months to come up with this ordinance that he said he feels doesn’t address the problems at hand. “It [the ordinance the commissioners are proposing] is a cut and paste job—there is no forethought into what they are doing,” Ganje explained.
The commissioners planned to hold a meeting open to the public to read and potentially approve the ordinance on Feb. 7, 2019, but this hearing was postponed due to inclement weather.
Rather than pass this ordinance Ganje said “I would like to see them [commissioners] table to approve this ordinance…take criticism back to the expert, talk to me about questions and with the states attorney.”
Ganje explained that he has written legislation before and would be willing to visit with the commissioners as well as their hired expert and state’s attorney about the ordinance and “to respond to the county’s proposed ordinance language and discuss with the county and it’s expert’s errors in the current proposed ordinance.”
Wind energy is very much a growing industry. Mark Mauersberger, Senior Development Manager for APEX Clean Energy, explained there is a “huge amount of corporate interest in these projects [wind and solar farms].”
According to Mauersberger, the state of South Dakota is behind as far as wind energy development is concerned when compared to neighboring states such as North Dakota and Minnesota in light of available energy transmission. He stated that there are many benefits to wind energy that generate “multiplier effects.” For example, he said that money from taxes on the towers finds its way into county and school programs, construction and maintenance of the towers provide jobs, and landowners receive compensation as well.
In a June 2018 editorial Van Kuren wrote about wind energy in Campbell County for the Prairie Pioneer, he said that “Capacity and production tax revenue from Campbell County Wind Farm (CCWF) was $318,345.15 this past year. The Pollock – Mobridge School District received $159,172.58 and Campbell County government received $159,172.57. Tax revenue from CCWF could be almost doubled with the addition of Phase II turbines.”
Additionally, Mauersberger explained that the wind towers that are being built today are more efficient, magnetically driven and less likely to need repair compared to the mechanical gear driven towers of ten years ago.
Larry Odde, a land owner 3/4ths of a mile north of the wind farm in Campbell County, said that he was approached by the ConEdison to put wind towers on his land, but he declined. Now that ConEdison is planning to expand the wind farm, Odde says that he is concerned that “the county ordinance hasn’t set any regulations on what they [ConEdison] can and can’t do.”
He expressed concerns about wind tower construction ruining county roads, the inconveniences construction brings to communities, and the noise/vibrations from the wind towers.
Going forward Odde explained that he’d like the new towers “set back a mile and a half so they aren’t so close” to peoples’ homes. The current ordinance that the county is working on is less than that.
Robert Salverson, a land owner south of the wind farm in Campbell County, was also approached by ConEdison to put towers on his land, but declined. Salverson’s explained that he has seen abandoned wind farms that haven’t been taken care of and asks “are we protected as a land owner if we would have to clean that up?”
Along with the potential decommissioning issue with the towers, Salverson also has concerns that the heavy machinery used in the construction of the towers would ruin the farm land surrounding the bases of the towers, aerial applicators wouldn’t want to work near the wind towers, and because of the noise and eyesore, the towers’ presence could diminish the value of people’s property.
The temporary ordinance that county commissioners are working on is not enough to protect landowners in the area, he believes.