TYNDALL — The Bon Homme County Commission expects to decide later this month whether a proposed $297 million wind farm complies with the county zoning ordinance.
Prevailing Wind project manager Roland Jurgens met Tuesday with the commission and other county officials. He presented a permit application — several inches thick — for the proposed wind farm north of Avon and southwest of Tripp.
Bon Homme County Zoning Administrator Eric Elsberry emphasized what was — and wasn’t — expected of the commissioners at this time.
"This isn’t to approve or disapprove (the project)," he said. "It’s to make sure they have included everything to comply with the county zoning ordinance."
The project would cover approximately 50,000 acres of land in Bon Homme, Charles Mix and Hutchinson counties. Prevailing Wind would be located near the current Beethoven wind farm, the site of an open house Tuesday.
The sPower renewable energy company owns and would operate the 30-year project. The plan calls for 61 turbines, each nearly 600 feet tall, producing a maximum total of 219.6 megawatts of power.
The company would sell the electricity to North Dakota-based Basin Electric Power Cooperative.
The Bon Homme County commissioners could wait until its Aug. 21 meeting before making a decision, Auditor Tammy Brunken told them.
"It will give you a couple of weeks to review the material and to make a decision," she said.
The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) held a public hearing on the wind farm last month in Avon, attended by about 200 people. The four-hour meeting generated testimony from both sides for the controversial project.
The PUC announced Tuesday the timeline for its evidentiary hearing in Pierre. The PUC expects to make a final decision on Prevailing Wind by October.
POINTING OUT FEATURES
During Tuesday’s county commission meeting, Jurgens showed maps of the Prevailing Wind project. The audience included project investors Ron Wagner and Erik Johnson from the respective Tyndall and Avon areas.
Jurgens pointed out the access road, turbine areas and structures for measuring wind speed. The site includes both temporary and permanent features. He spoke of ways in which Prairie Wind would mitigate the permanent impacts.
He explained the fiber optics and other features, such as sending data from the turbine back to the substation and control station. The turbines would be controlled from Utah, New York, and another off-site location, as well as an on-site building.
The features include an automated system that operates the blinking lights only when aircraft enter the area, Jurgens said. He estimated the radar system and lights will be off 90-98 percent of the time.
Prevailing Wind intends to apply for an individual building permit for each turbine, Jurgens said. The project calls for 22 turbines in Bon Homme County, each an estimated $4 million cost, including the associated facilities.
In Bon Homme County, the wind farm permit fee comes to $1 per $1,000 of valuation. The project calls for 19 turbines in Charles Mix County and five in Hutchinson County.
When it comes to deciding their approval, the Bon Homme County commissioners must decide if Prevailing Wind complies with Article 17 of the county’s zoning ordinance, Elsberry said.
Article 17 deals with criteria such as setback requirements, cables, feeder line, ground surfaces, towers, noise, wildlife and shadow flickers.
"Look at what is in Article 17, and see if they have the documentation supporting that," Elsberry said, noting the commissioners can consult with District III planning district staff member Brian McGinnis.
Jurgens said the commissioners’ upcoming decision represents just the first step.
"If you say, ‘Yes, it meets our expectations,’ Eric will do the heavy lifting and make a checklist to see that everything has been met," Jurgens said.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Jurgens noted the map contained the anticipated locations of each turbine, subject to PUC approval. Should the PUC require changes, a turbine can be moved up to 250 feet without needing further PUC approval, he said.
"Then, we assign a 911 address, put the foundation in the ground and put the turbine up," he said of the final steps.
Under PUC requirements, Prevailing Wind would deposit a pre-determined amount annually to an escrow account to cover decommissioning costs if the project ends or the company files for bankruptcy, Jurgens said.
Under a PUC ruling, the Crocker Wind Project will deposit $5,000 per turbine per year until the escrow fund has reached the needed level, Jurgens said. He anticipates a similar procedure and amount for Prevailing Wind.
The PUC holds jurisdiction for the life of the wind project and is the only body that can touch the escrow account, he added.
At last month’s hearing in Avon, sPower Vice President Peter Pawloski said the company looks to hire 250 workers during construction. The company would hire an estimated 8-10 employees throughout the life of the project.
The project will bring $12 million in revenue to the participating landowners and bring $770,000 a year to the economy, he estimated.
Some of the other orders of business included:
• The commissioners adopted a provisional budget with adjustments. They reduced highway equipment from the requested $900,000 to $300,000; kept the county corner on a per-call payment rather than changing to a salary; and added health insurance for county commissioners if any of them desired single coverage.
• They chose to participate in the Rural Attorney Recruitment Program. The state initiative provides financial incentives to attract and retain attorneys for underserved rural areas.
• Scotland area residents Frank Kloucek, Robert Jerke, Kevin Carda and Shon Whitwood met with the commissioners concerning what they consider the health threats of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
In particular, they spoke about hog barns in the county. Carda said his land has become surrounded by CAFOs, ruining his property values and threatening the health of those in the area.
Kloucek had previously called for a CAFO moratorium in Bon Homme County, and Tuesday’s agenda indicated he wanted to revisit the topic for hog operations with more than 500 units.
However, the four men spoke Tuesday about adopting a resolution to ensure health, particularly against the swine flu and other diseases. They also urged the commissioners to visit the CAFO sites.
No action was taken at this time, but the delegation asked to continue working with the county on the issue.
• Scotland area resident Mary Jo Bauder, also a Bon Homme County commission candidate, expressed concerns about a proposed increase in the county wheel tax. She believes any hikes would fall heavily on farmers at a time when the agricultural economy is struggling.
The commissioners noted a major reason for raising the wheel tax would be to increase the local funding effort, a major criteria for the Bridge Improvement Grants (BIG) through the state government. The higher wheel tax would also generate more local funds for projects.
The commissioners and other county officials reviewed the wheel taxes of other counties across the state.
Auditor Tammy Brunken was instructed to draw up an amendment for the county wheel tax ordinance, with the commissioners considering it at their Aug. 21 meeting.
The proposal would keep the wheel tax at $2 a wheel for up to four wheels for vehicles with a gross weight of less than 6,000 pounds and raise it to $5 a wheel for vehicles with a gross weight exceeding 6,000 pounds. The rationale was that the larger vehicles create more wear and tear on the roads and bridges.
Brunken noted the wheel tax amendment could be referred to the ballot. If the tax hike passes, it likely wouldn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2019, she added.
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