For the second time in three years, the Davison County Commission has said no to a major wind project west of Mitchell.
The county’s commissioners, meeting as the Board of Adjustment Tuesday, unanimously voted in opposition to a conditional use permit application for a nine-turbine wind farm in Beulah Township from Davison County Wind, LLC and its parent company Con Edison Development. That decision was made by the five-person board at the Davison County North Offices in Mitchell.
Like the Planning Commission’s meeting on April 3, the meeting room was once again packed, with about 55 people gathering for the decision, which stretched through two hours of public comment and the final vote was made more than three hours into the meeting.
In total, the commissioners cited concerns about property rights issues and potential loss in property values as the primary reasons for their opposition to the 453-foot tall wind turbines.
Commissioner John Claggett said he based his decision on the county’s comprehensive plan, taking into account how future development should be considered. He said it should be compatible with current land uses, general welfare of the public and the rights of citizens.
“We always need basis for our decision-making. It’s incumbent upon us to come back to this and the documents we use to make decisions,” Claggett said. “I can’t vote for it in the affirmative.”
Both commissioners Kim Weitala and Brenda Bode mirrored their votes from last week as members of the planning panel, voting in opposition again. Bode spent an extensive time questioning Corey Juhl, of Con Edison Development, about the background behind the group and the decommissioning plans when the turbines were no longer to be used.
Commissioners Denny Kiner and Randy Reider both expressed concern about home values decreasing near the project. Kiner expressed some regret about how complex the issue is, and that it does pit neighbors’ interests against each other. The meeting was emotional but civil, something the commissioners commended.
“There’s a lot of highly respected people on both sides of the issues,” Kiner said. “It’s people’s livelihoods at stake and I certainly understand that.”
Juhl, who represented the project in 2016, as well, said his group made changes to the project based on feedback from the last time the county denied the project, primarily shrinking the project footprint and making it more than a half-mile from the nearest non-participating property owner. The county does not have a wind project ordinance and minimum setbacks for turbines.
Juhl said the investment would be between $32 million and $35 million. The wind farm was set to pay at least $94,000 in taxes each year, most of which would stay in the county.
“We can’t confuse the passionate opinion with the fact. … Look at the greater good for the county,” Juhl said. “We didn’t come in here with bad intentions. … We were told to make the project more palatable and come back. There’s a lot of things ready to rock and roll.”
There was also extensive public testimony, with 37 public commenters Tuesday, split between 19 supporters - many of them were wind turbine technology students at Mitchell Technical Institute who eventually maintain turbines for a living - and 18 opponents, with almost all of them living in the northern part of the county.
“Electricity for many will benefit, cost-wise, very few. … The remainder will be paying the price,” said Jerry Wadleigh, who lives within three-quarters of a mile to the closest proposed turbine.
There was some frustration for those behind the project. Peggy Greenway, one of the participating landowners in the project, said she was surprised at the amount of opposition for something she felt was a progressive project that would benefit the entire county. Her husband, Brad, said he was concerned about the precedent that could be set with other farm projects.
“The concern is what is the next thing that we look at and say ‘I’m looking at a hog barn and I don’t like the noise,”’ he said. “‘Or I’m hearing a grain bin and that’s too much.’ We need to look at that. We have zoning rules in place and this is above and beyond what is recommended.”
On April 3, the county’s planning commission voted 4-3 in opposition to the plan but that only served as a recommendation for Tuesday’s meeting. Con Edison had planned to make the Davison County project part of three in the region, along with wind projects in Aurora and Brule counties. Those projects, which are expected to get underway next month, are located south of White Lake and Kimball, respectively.