LETCHER, S.D. — A proposed wind farm has drawn the displeasure of some Letcher residents.
To the dismay of at least one neighbor, a recently denied renewable energy project seems to have gained a second wind in Sanborn County.
Pipestone, Minnesota-based Juhl Energy is meeting with landowners in rural Letcher to discuss a potential 9- to 11-turbine wind farm similar to the rural Mount Vernon project denied in February by the Davison County Commission. The project is still in preliminary phases, with no landowner agreements established, but rural Letcher resident Mary Ann Blindauer doesn't want any part of the project
"When I look out, I'm going to see those monstrosities," Blindauer said Monday.
Last week, a representative of Juhl Energy met with some neighbors of Harvey and Karen Fouberg and one other landowner, who Juhl Energy Vice President of Project Development Corey Juhl declined to name, to discuss the potential project. Juhl said nothing is set in stone, but he's working to "quadruple check" to see if neighbors have any questions about the project.
The project shifted over the county line when the Davison County Commission heard several complaints from nearby landowners in Beulah Township. Now that it has hopped the border into a less densely populated area, Juhl Energy is hoping to take advantage of the same NorthWestern Energy power transmission line it hoped to use in Davison County.
While the project remains in its early stages, with Juhl Energy still considering turbine locations, the 84-year-old Blindauer is concerned with its potential impact on the property she has occupied her whole life.
Although Blindauer is worried about the imposing size of the structures, which would likely be the same size as the 446-foot turbines proposed in Davison County, she's more concerned with the potential impact on the value of her property. Blindauer also said she was asked to consider installing a tower on her land, but she declined out of respect to her neighbors.
"I'm not taking it. I don't want to devalue my land with those things," Blindauer said. "Plus the fact that I respect my neighbors, too."
Juhl countered by relaying the same information he offered to both Davison and Sanborn counties. Juhl pointed to a 2013 study conducted by the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which is a member of a national laboratory system supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, which found wind farms "produce little or no effect on home values."
Juhl said the company is also trying to be as neighborly as possible, with no turbine currently planned within 1,800 feet of a non-participating home. At 1,800 feet, the Juhl Energy turbines would be 1,300 feet further than the 500-foot setback requirement established by South Dakota Codified Law.
After its last project proposal was denied, Juhl Energy hasn't changed its approach to gain support from nearby landowners. While nothing changed since the Davison County project, Juhl said it reinforced the importance of maintaining a dialogue with project neighbors.
Juhl also hopes neighbors understand the benefits the project could have in the community.
"The world needs more energy, and renewable energy is good for the planet and good for the local economy when it comes to the tax base, property taxes and short-term and long-term job creation," Juhl said.
Although the project is still in its preliminary phase, Juhl said the economic benefits will be similar to those included in the Davison County project. When pitching the $40 million Davison County project, Juhl said the wind farm could generate $2.8 million to $3 million in taxes over the 25-year lifespan of the system. Two-thirds of the revenue was expected to return to local governments.
If Juhl decides to seek permits for the project, Sanborn County's Zoning Board and County Commission would both need to approve the plan.
But one commissioner, who's also a nephew of Blindauer, still has questions about the project.
Commissioner Gary Blindauer, of Letcher, said many of the landowners in the area are not supportive of the project, but he has not decided to support or oppose it just yet. Gary Blindauer has heard concerns from landowners like his aunt, Mary Ann, about potentially lowered property tax values, but he's waiting to base his decision on facts.
Gary Blindauer said he would like to see his county's director of equalization research changes in property values before and after the installation of wind towers in other South Dakota counties.
"There's too many rumors going around," Blindauer said. "I want to see the facts before I make my decision."