Frustrated and vocal residents descended on a usually scarce attended meeting of the Stark County Planning and Zoning meeting on Thursday, as the first public commentary session began on a Marathon and One Energy proposed wind energy project on Patterson Lake.
The overwhelming consensus from residents who took to the podium was for the county to stop the project and reject construction of wind turbines within the city of Dickinson.
In May, Marathon Petroleum Corp. signed an agreement with One Energy Enterprises LLC to install five 2.3-megawatt wind turbines at Marathon’s renewable diesel facility in Dickinson. The wind turbines, according to Marathon’s press releases and interviews, sought to provide energy to the facility and help further decrease its carbon emissions profile.
Proponents of the project highlighted the $5,000 ‘Megawatt Scholarship’ to local high school graduates pursuing two or four-year degrees in science, technology, engineering or math.
Opponents of the project contest that the project is being constructed by the energy companies for the sole purpose of receiving a multi-million dollar tax credit, and provides no benefit to the residents of Stark County.
In June, commissioners passed a non-legally binding moratorium intended to halt the construction or development of wind turbines within the county. The moratorium was quickly bucked by Marathon Petroleum and One Energy Enterprises, who filed a notice of appeal with a summons requesting that the courts file a release against the county’s moratorium in what they claim was an “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable” decision “not supported by substantial evidence.”
Commissioners rescinded the moratorium at their regularly scheduled July meeting, on the advice of legal counsel, and instead directed the county planning and zoning director to draft a new legally sound moratorium to be presented at the next commission meeting.
On Thursday, July 29, the commissioners with Stark County Planning and Zoning met to approve the foundations of a new and legally binding moratorium.
In a 5-2 vote, commissioners approved moving forward with the amendments to the rules and definitions for the administration and enforcement of the Stark County Zoning Ordinance as adopted on October 2, 2012 regarding development moratoria.
Commissioners Dean Franchuk, Carla Arthaud, Nikki Wolla, Daneen Dressler and Sandra Kuntz voted in favor of the proposed policy for developing moratoria, with amendments as proposed by Kuntz. Commissioners Suzi Sobolik, and Kurt Froelich were not present, and Commissioners Sue L. Larsen and Byron Richard voted against the agenda item.
During the public commentary period centered on wind energy projects, citizens approached the dias and gave heartfelt pleas for the commission to reject Marathon and One Energy’s project.
“You’re here for us, not Marathon!” one angered resident said to a cacophony of applauds from the gathered crowd.
Among the chief complaints by Stark County residents, some of whom already reside near active wind turbines, were the turbines’ light and sound pollution. Residents said that turbines flicker, make noise, cause health problems and can be “visual pollution.”
Many speakers addressed concerns with negative impacts on property values, as fears surrounding an impending housing market crisis have raised the stakes. One resident stated that selling her property has been impossible, as interested parties are quickly turned off by the adjacent wind turbines, noise and light pollution. According to the resident, her property has lost nearly $200,000 in value as a direct result of the wind farm.
Conflicts in 2021 surrounding wind energy aren’t unique to Stark County, as Mercer County unanimously imposed their own July moratorium on all wind-related projects – the pause is tentatively slated for two years. Mercer County’s decision, like the one in Stark County, is a response to a proposed construction of a wind farm.
The U.S. Department of Energy has concluded in a study that in order to generate only 20% of current United States electricity demand through the use of land-based wind installations, it would require no less than 20,000 square miles – or the size of Maryland and Vermont combined. By comparison, all U.S. nuclear power plants, which produce around 20% of power, occupy only 110 square miles.
The Obama administration heavily pushed wind power and through the Clean Power Plan required more than a tripling of the nation’s wind capacity to 220,000 megawatts by 2030.
A second public commentary session is planned for the next planning and zoning meeting scheduled for Sept. 2, 2021, to be held at the Dakota Room at the Stark County Family and Ag Resource Campus located at 2680 Empire Road Door C in Dickinson.
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