Company pulls conditional use permit application for McCook County solar farm after pushback from the public
Public concerns included property values, impact on people, environment
SALEM, S.D. — Following approximately 30 minutes of public statements, a company hoping to receive a conditional use permit for a solar farm in McCook County withdrew its application and said it would continue to review the project as well as possibly seek approval directly at the state level.
The move came Tuesday morning during a meeting of the McCook County Commission assembled as the board of adjustment, where about 50 members of the public squeezed into a meeting room to share their viewpoints on the endeavor, which is being proposed by National Grid Renewables, a company based out of Bloomington, Minnesota, according to its website.
“The company has decided to withdraw the conditional use permit application at this time with the intention to reapply at a later date,” Melissa Schmit, senior director for permitting for National Grid Renewables, told the board following the public statements.
National Grid Renewables was proposing a 99-megawatt energy facility that would be located south of Canistota in McCook County. The project area would encompass approximately 740 acres acquired through voluntary lease agreements. The power generated through the solar panels on the site would interconnect to the Northern States Power Company Grant Substation.
Construction was slated to begin in the third quarter of 2024, with construction completion estimated for December of 2025.
While nobody outside representatives for the company spoke in favor of the project, many of those in attendance took time to voice their opposition to the solar farm. Those concerns ranged from the potential impact to property values to public safety concerns to drainage issues to a perceived lack of transparency from the company itself.
Arnold Tappin, whose home would be surrounded on three sides by the project, told the board that the company failed to notify him about an open house the company held in late 2022 for those landowners that would be impacted by the project. He said the company told him it was unaware there was a residence at that particular location.
He said he bought his house in August of 2021, and the previous homeowner also did not know about the project before the sale.
“I’m actually buried in that project. My house will be surrounded on three sides,” Tappin said. “I did not get full disclosure when I purchased my house. If I had, I would not have bought the house.”
He also shared concerns about the solar farm taking up valuable farmland space that could be going toward more traditional uses.
“Webster’s Dictionary defines farming as growing something from crops or livestock. Solar farms are closer to the definition of mining because they extract something from the environment, like coal or gold mining would,” Tappin said. “Putting these solar farms on A1 agricultural land is not appropriate. I urge (the board) to reject this permit and protect our agricultural land and heritage.”
D.J. Buseman lives adjacent to what would be the solar farm, and shared similar concerns, including those on property values.
“The Tappins are going to be surrounded by it, and we’re going to be next to it, and other people have acreages very nearby,” Buseman said. “(The values of those properties) could be affected if they ever decide to sell.”
He also had concerns about a possible heat island effect, which could raise local temperatures and adversely affect crops, livestock and the quality of life of local residents.
“You get a 90-degree day and a 30-mile-per-hour wind, that heat is going to be another 7 degrees coming off those panels. You can’t say that’s not going to affect the quality of life of the individuals who live next to it, or the livestock or the crops,” Buseman said. “That could have a big effect, because we know when we have an abnormally hot summer what it can do to our crops.”
DeeAnn Matthaei, who lives a quarter mile from the project, said she is sure having solar panel fields near her home will have a negative impact on property values.
“Our property values, whether you’re thinking it will be affected or not — it will go down in value. I will tell you that with a field of solar panels, finding an interested buyer would be hard and the price we would get would not be the same,” Matthaei said.
Like others, Matthaei also voiced concerns about drainage, potential well water contamination, the danger of fire and interference to satellite and cellular service.
“We strongly oppose this project. We do not want it near us,” Matthaei said.
Joe Buseman, D.J. Buseman’s father, also spoke up, raising concerns about potential contamination of his son’s property if weather like last year’s derecho blows through the region again. Storms with high winds can damage pretty much anything in South Dakota, and he worries that such a storm could see debris and perhaps dangerous materials drain into D.J.’s property.
“We know living here what the weather is, and a lot of times in May, June, July with the storms we have, and we’ve seen them in the past year, that there is really nothing that is immune that can survive, most everything can be taken,” Joe Buseman said. “If these kinds of panels are broken up in a storm — windstorm, tornado, derecho, whatever it may be — it’s nothing for us to get 4 or 5 inches of rain with it. It drains onto D.J.’s. I question what could happen if you get water contaminated.”
Following the public input, staffers with National Grid Renewables asked for a few minutes to confer before offering a rebuttal. When they returned before the board, they stated they were withdrawing the application for further review.
“The company has heard and appreciates all the comments and all the folks who have shown up to share comments today,” Schmit said. “We heard some issues that the company would like to look into further, including some of the comments about drainage, the size of the project and potentially pursuing state permitting.”
Schmit declined to elaborate on a timetable for any future re-application or exactly what form that process may take. While seeking approval through the state PUC could be an option, only solar energy facilities with a generating capacity of 100 megawatts or more of electricity are required to obtain a permit from the PUC before construction.
The withdrawal of the application effectively concluded the proceedings of the commission as the board of adjustment and it moved on to other scheduled business.
Marc Dick, chair of the McCook County Commission, said he understood the concerns from the public and was glad they were on hand to express their opinion.
“I’ve lived in this area all my life, and there are a lot of adverse effects that go with this, from livestock to the people and the aesthetics of the land,” Dick said.
He said that, like others, he had questions about how forthright the company had been in its project pitch.
“I don’t think that they really gave us full disclosure on a lot of things, and I don’t know if they really have done their homework,” Dick told the Mitchell Republic following the meeting. “It’s just something where I think they maybe wanted to railroad it through a bunch of country boys. And it didn’t go that way.”