After about 40 minutes of a sometimes-heated discussion involving about 20 people, the Hughes County Planning and Zoning Commission decided on Monday to go ahead with a revision of its ordinances, increasing the minimum setbacks on large wind turbines from neighboring homes.
The planning-and-zoning panel first held a public forum to take questions and discussion about the proposed revision of county ordinances; it then went into a regular meeting to take action, which included some more input from supporters and opponents of building wind farms in the county.
The county-zoning panel held a similar public forum last week in Harrold, attended by about 30 residents, with much discussion and roughly two-thirds of the people against wind farm development, county officials said on Monday.
The public debate, going on across the state, was sparked in Hughes County when it was learned this spring that a California company was meeting with landowners to size-up opportunities to build two wind farms.
Infinity Renewables, a California wind-and-solar-energy company, has struck preliminary deals with several landowners in eastern Hughes and Hyde Counties, including working with landowners who have agreed to sign easements to allow wind turbines on their land.
The going price is $10,000 to $15,000 per-year, per- turbine over a 50-year lease, said Michael Bollweg, who says he and his family turned down Infinity’s offers to build up to 10 wind tower-and-turbine systems on his family’s 16 quarter-sections of land several miles south of Harrold.
A quarter-section of land is 160 acres.
He and his family run a hunting lodge that has clients from all over the nation and world, he said, making “the aesthetic value” of their land untrammeled by windmills worth more than money from Infinity, Bollweg told the Capital Journal. And, he’s worried that neighboring landowners may allow Infinity to install windmills, diminishing his land, hurting the views and making noise, Bollweg said.
He’s collected several hundred signatures from Hughes County residents who don’t like the idea of a lot of wind turbines being built, Bollweg said.
His neighbor, Ross Krull, who has struck a deal with Infinity to site wind turbines on his land, said he had his doubts about the signatures on Bollweg’s petitions.
“I’d like to see your list,” Krull said, suggesting that many of the signatures were from non-locals or otherwise questionable.
“I wish you would quit the personal attacks,” Bollweg said, then took his own shot at Krull: “Are you blinded by the checks coming in?”
The main issue before the audience was the county’s zoning commission’s proposed amendment that would increase the setback distance of wind turbines from a neighbor’s residence from 1,000 feet to 1,400 feet.
The proposed ordinance also requires that wind turbines must be placed about 500 feet to 550 feet - or 1.1 times the height of the windmill system, tower and blade height, which might be about 450 feet - from adjoining property lines or roads.
That probably isn’t far enough, Bollweg said. He would rather see a half-mile setback, like voters in Lincoln County just approved this month.
Dr. Noah Chicoine, a Pierre family-practice physician who is an avid outdoorsman, said his research tells him that even at 1,500 yards, or nearly a mile, the giant windmills cause health problems, including headaches and anxiety and sleeplessness, from their incessant noise and blinking lights and other things.
Christine White, a representative of Infinity, told the zoning commission that a setback of a half mile, or of 1,500 yards, would have a big impact on their plans, making it difficult to find enough sites for the turbines. But the 1,400-foot setback seems reasonable, she said.
Norm Weaver, chairman of the county commission and a member of the planning-and-zoning commission, said zoning by its nature is a “takings” process, limiting the use of private property. So the difficult task is to find a compromise that doesn’t take away too much of a landowner’s right to make money from a wind turbine, while also not imposing the giant power structures and their shadows and sounds and lights on neighbors who receive no money from them..
The zoning panel asked county staff workers, including new Planning Director Lee McCurrin and County Manager Kevin Hipple, to add some revisions to the proposed ordinance, including a good definition of property boundaries before the next zoning-panel meeting in late August. The process still is lengthy, with public hearings needed by both the zoning panel, then the county commission, before the ordinances would take effect.
Weaver said the ordinances can lay down some minimum setback requirements. The county then still can issue conditional-use permits for wind turbines which make setbacks more restrictive, or longer.
At the same time, landowners can agree to waive some of the minimum setback requirements in particular situations, in deals with neighbors and/or Infinity.
This spring, the county commission put a six-month moratorium on any wind-farm development until the county ordinances had been revised.
White said that the state’s Public Utilities Commission regulates wind farms with the capacity of producing 100 megawatts of power, which likely would include Infinity’s plans in Hughes and Hyde Counties.
The size of Infinity’s project isn’t certain yet, partly because of the public process still to be worked through, White said.
The details aren’t set in stone yet, but Infinity is looking at a type of wind tower that, including the top sweep of its blades, would stand 400 feet to 500 feet high, with a “plated capacity” of 2 megawatts of power or even as much as 3 megawatts, White said.
That means a 2-megawatt wind turbine would produce 2 megawatts in one hour running at maximum, or plated, capacity;or in a year, or 8,760 megawatt hours.
But the “capacity factor”, or what percent of maximum capacity actually is generated when windless days are taken into account and other things,, can vary from 40 to 50 percent in the newer, larger wind turbines.
Last year, the 984 wind turbines in South Dakota put out 3.1 million megawatt/hours of electrical power, or 36 percent of the total plated capacity, said Darren Kearney, utilities analyst at the PUC.
One wind tower topped by a 2-megawatt-capacity turbine can put out enough power in a year, at the 36 percent capacity factor, to power about 720 average homes in the state, Kearney said.
South Dakota produces about twice as much electrical power as it uses, with half of it coming from hydroelectric sources, and about 26 percent coming from wind, with natural gas and coal - and the small solar plant at the Pierre Regional Airport - making up the other sources, said Chris Nelson, chairman of the PUC.
South Dakota is considered to the the state with the fourth-highest potential for wind-energy production; Texas is number one by a long shot.