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A set of turbines turn in the wind as part of a wind energy system southwest of Tripp, S.D. (FNS file photo)

Davison County to consider wind energy rules

MITCHELL, S.D. - After turning down another wind proposal, officials are setting out to provide some clarity on what the rules are in Davison County for commercial wind projects.

Davison County Planning and Zoning Administrator Jeff Bathke said the plan was to bring forward a proposed ordinance with a minimum half-mile setback to the county's Planning Commission on May 1. But the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission recently provided counties with a sample ordinance that they can apply toward their set of rules, and Bathke said the county will take additional time to consider that information for its plan.

Instead of considering an ordinance at that meeting, there will be a renewable energy discussion May 1, Bathke said, to consider what the county rules will be in future projects.

"We want to take some time to step back and review that," he said. "It's another tool available for us to use and look at."

Earlier this month, the county's commissioners voted unanimously against a nine-turbine wind project proposed for Beulah Township between Mitchell and Mount Vernon. That was the second time in a span of three years that a wind project for that part of the county was turned away in the face of significant public opposition.

Commission chairman Brenda Bode said earlier this month that the difference between the two applications showed Davison County was not ready for a sizable wind energy project.

"There wasn't a happy medium and that Davison County is probably not ready for wind energy," she said. "Sometimes, you have to accept that, that they just aren't ready for that. That doesn't mean I don't support wind energy but that's where we're at."

When the proposed Davison County Wind, LLC project was being considered, a number of the members of the public to testify said regardless of what county officials decided on the project, a rule needed to be on the books in the future to make clear what was allowed.

Now, without a project currently being proposed, Bathke said this is the right time for the county board to decide where to go next. A possible wind ordinance could move to the approval process this summer.

"Right now, there's no pending applications. It's a good time to set the bar, wherever that's going to be," he said. "But if a company comes in and meets those guidelines you've set, you don't really have any reason to say no. And the commission will have to look at that, too."

Opponents to the projects have cited that Davison County ranks third among South Dakota's 66 counties in population density, with 45 people for every square mile in the county. Only Minnehaha and Lincoln counties are more dense.

The setback rule is the primary concern for most property owners. Bathke said the county's proposed rule is based on existing ordinances in other counties and existing wind farms, considering the setbacks and requirements that were in place.

"We wanted to look at what was common in the industry and what was common in most instances," he said. "We were a little stronger, I think, than what most other counties or projects currently have."

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