Lincoln County voted to bar industrial wind development Tuesday night, backers of a massive turbine farm say.
After more than two hours of public comments, commissioners in South Dakota’s third most populous county voted 3-1 to require a distance of three-quarters of a mile between wind towers and homes.
The distance is less than the one mile setback approved by planners last month, but wind energy advocates said the impact is the same.
“The setback requirement could very well shut down any wind development in the county,” said Brian Minish, a board member for Dakota Power Community Wind.
Wind backers could get a waiver from nearby property owners, but no turbine could be closer than 1,000 feet from a home.
Dakota Power announced its intent last week to seek a deal with Xcel Energy that would provide 400 megawatts of wind power. Minish told commissioners that would be worth $4.9 million a year in tax revenue if the power came from Lincoln County, but said after the meeting that the turbines would likely need to go elsewhere.
The planning commission voted last month for a one-mile setback, strict volume limits and a requirement that a shadow flicker analysis be performed for any turbine placed in the county.
The commission backed the shadow flicker rule 3-1 and unanimously voted to increase the acceptable volume limit to levels suggested by DPCW.
All three changes disappointed opponents of the Dakota Power project, once billed as the largest wind proposal in the state.
We-Care South Dakota, the non-profit group organizing against the project on behalf of rural residents, had offered support for the planning commission’s version of the ordinance revamp.
On Tuesday night, We-Care director Winnie Peterson said her group was disappointed in the alterations.
The group’s members have offered hundreds of comments for well over a year about potential adverse health effects like loss of sleep, migraines and nausea. They also worry about a loss in property values.
“We don’t think our community was heard,” Peterson said. “We don’t feel this protects the health, welfare and safety of our community, which our commissioners are sworn to protect.”
Cindy Thomas, a retired nurse and We-Care member, told commissioners that low-frequency infrasound from wind turbines – largely inaudible to the human ear – can impact children and the elderly.
“The wind industry has known that fact,” but refuses to participate in studies, Thomas said.
Peterson said We-Care South Dakota will regroup and return to future meetings. The commission is set to hold another public hearing on the amended measures on Dec. 27.
Minish and project backers have consistently dismissed the claims of We-Care South Dakota, saying there is no reliable scientific proof that any setback further than 1,250 feet from a front door is needed to protect community safety.
“If you’re going to ban renewable power from wind energy, why don’t you just do the ban?” Minish asked commissioners after the setback vote.
Commissioners grappled with their decisions at length on Tuesday, with longtime county officials Jim Schmidt and Dale Long noting that the issue has become the most divisive in memory.
“This has just completely divided everybody,” Long said.
Schmidt worried aloud that rules more strict than defensable could draw lawsuits or the ire the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.
He also speculated that green energy-backing Sioux Falls residents at the county’s northern end – the “baby gorilla,” Schmidt called them – might vote down strict setbacks if their decision were put to a vote.
“We are supposed to have something that’s fair and equitable, and it would have to be defensible,” Schmidt said.
Commissioner Dan King initially balked at any setback lower than a mile, but relented in the interest of a setback distance closer to what opponents supported. With Commissioner Dave Gillespie recusing himself for ties to the wind farm, a tie vote would keep the setbacks at three times the turbine height.
King said he sees setbacks and noise protections as precautionary measures based on the testimony and evidence offered through hours of hearings by turbine opponents.
“You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” King said.