Winds are blowing in the right direction for a renewable energy project in Bon Homme County.
The Bon Homme County Commission unanimously approved a setback to the county's zoning code that would block any wind turbine from being built within 1,000 feet of a residence.
At Tuesday's regular meeting, the county decided to follow the Planning and Zoning Commission's recommendation to use the 1,000-foot setback rather than the citizen-proposed two-mile requirement.
Commission Chairman Russell Jelsma said the zoning amendment comes in preparation for the proposed second phase of a wind farm in Bon Homme, Charles Mix and Hutchinson counties.
NorthWestern Energy currently operates a 43-turbine wind farm in the same counties, called Project Beethoven, generating 80 megawatts of power near Tripp. Jelsma said the proposed project in Bon Homme County would be the second phase of Project Beethoven, but he is unsure who the investors would be.
Jelsma said the project is in the preliminary phase, with investors still searching for land to lease for the project. If investors cannot find enough land to lease, Jelsma said, the project could die before it begins.
If investors find enough land, they will then need approval from the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, and Bon Homme County will have the opportunity to establish a conditional use permit. Jelsma said citizens concerned with the project will have the opportunity to issue their complaints to the PUC if the project moves forward.
In September, about 15 people attended a public hearing in the Bon Homme County Courthouse in Tyndall to discuss the amendment. Many attendees of the meeting in Tyndall were opposed to the project and asked for one- or two-mile setbacks. Jelsma said setbacks of those distances are unrealistic.
"They wanted this originally to go to a two-mile setback, well, you can't do that because you're eliminating everything," Jelsma said.
Jelsma believes a two-mile setback, requiring turbines to be located at least 10,000 feet from every residence, would make it virtually impossible to find a home for the wind farm.
Although the zoning amendment was approved, Jelsma has no idea when investors will come before the commission to seek a conditional use permit.