The Deuel County Zoning Board narrowly denied an application by Flying Cow Wind, LCC, to build a wind farm near Lake Cochrane.
The Bitter Root Wind Farm would have put up to 14 wind turbines on agricultural land on the eastern edge of the county near the Minnesota border. Plans for the project, first announced last month, drew immediate and strong opposition.
“You can be pro-wind power or anti-wind power,” said Jim Elkholm, past president of the Lake Cochrane Improvement Association, “but the fact is wind turbines just don’t belong here. This is one of the most pristine recreation areas in eastern South Dakota.”
Plans for the wind farm were announced in September, but the swift opposition forced the zoning board to table the permit application during its meeting on Sept. 15, giving both sides more time to present their cases.
After about three hours of discussion Monday night, a vote was finally taken Two board members voted to approve the wind farm application and two voted to deny it. One member abstained because of a potential conflict of interest. The tie vote meant the application would not be approved.
“We felt justice was served,” Elkholm said.
Monday’s meeting at the Deuel County 4-H building drew a standing-room-only crowd of around 160 people, both for and against the project. Included were landowners who had agreed to Flying Cow Wind’s financial incentives to allow the turbines on their land.
Despite strong emotions from people on both sides of the issue, Elkholm said the meeting was relatively calm.
“People were totally respectful of the process,” he said. “We have people who are not talking to each other over this, and I think that will last for a long time. People don’t like to have their lives turned upside down.”
When the final vote was taken, a roar went up from the crowd that Elkholm compared to being at a Minnesota Vikings game.
“Anytime something comes to a vote in a public meeting, there is concern over the outcome,” he said. “There were good views from both sides.”
The project pitted the rights of landowners to use their land as they see fit – in this case for a wind farm – versus the rights of those who want to maintain their way of life. The anti-wind farm group based their argument on the preamble to Deuel County’s zoning ordinance, which promises to “preserve and protect existing property uses and values against adverse or unharmonious adjacent uses.”
Flying Cow Wind made several concessions to the area residents, including installing radar-activated lights on the turbines, so the lights would only be on when an aircraft was nearby.
The 14 turbines would have produced 48.3 megawatts of electricity and would have included access roads and electrical collection and communication systems cabling.
Flying Cow Wind said it chose the Deuel County site due to the optimal wind resource, willing landowner partners, access to transmission, and environmental suitability, according to its application.
There are just over 200 houses and cabins around Lake Cochrane, along with a popular state park.
“I believe the vote went the right way, Elkholm said.” It was community effort. Lake residents teamed with people who live off the lake. We all came together and prevailed.”
Representatives from Flying Cow Wind, a subsidiary of Renewable Energy Solutions, could not be reached for comment. The Bitter Root Wind Farm project was planned to extend into Yellow Medicine and Lincoln counties in Minnesota.
According to Deuel County Zoning Officer Jody Theisen, Flying Cow must wait six months before resubmitting plans for a wind farm in the county.