Lincoln County: Joining or Rejecting the Modern Economy?

Three of the county commissioners of Lincoln County say they are in favor of renewable energy, however, they are moving to halt a multi-million-dollar renewable energy project in their own backyard.  A project that could supply renewable power to businesses in and around Sioux Falls. Placing those businesses in a better position to compete in the low carbon economy of the future.

When the Dakota Power Community Wind group initially brought the idea of a wind farm to Lincoln County, some of these same leaders were very supportive, saying the county was in desperate need of a project like this for economic growth and tax benefits. Yet, in a recent radio interview, Commissioner Schmidt said Lincoln County doesn’t need new revenue sources and that Lincoln County has many projects (in the Sioux Falls area) going on and they would be fine.

The commissioners have recently proposed changing the set-back on wind turbines from 1,300 ft., the same as Minnehaha County, to 3,960 ft. (¾ of a mile). This change in setback distance would essentially ban any wind farm in Lincoln County, as there are only 500 acres in the wind area of the county that would meet that requirement.  Chairman Poppens challenged the other commissioners to articulate a justifiable reason to change the setback and their only response was their personal dislike of looking at wind turbines.

Commissioner Long says he doesn’t want to look at wind turbines while he is driving his motorcycle along the highway.  Commissioners King and Schmidt seem to agree that aesthetics play a big part in their decision to increase the set-back requirements, although there is no scientific data citing safety reasons. The stated objections are contradictory to what Commissioner Schmidt said in initial meetings, stating that “aesthetics cannot play a role in this decision, we must have facts.”

Commissioner Schmidt even acknowledged that a majority of Lincoln County residents, especially those in Sioux Falls, would be supportive of wind energy development, but instead voted with a vocal minority of residents in the southern part of the county, none of which are his constituency. Commissioner Gillespie who recused himself from the vote because he provided an option on his property to the wind farm, was recently re-elected with a 67% majority, even when his opponent made the wind farm the election issue. The personal opinions of some commissioners in regards to the aesthetic appearance of wind turbines seems to override the interest of the majority in Lincoln County.

Dakota Power Community Wind reviewed and researched the county ordinances for wind farms when considering Lincoln County. The current county ordinance states, “The intent of regulations for Wind Energy Conversion Systems is to encourage the development of alternative sources of energy while protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public.” This ordinance was passed in 2009 with two of the same commissioners that voted for this ordinance, now voting to ban wind energy because of the wind turbine’s appearance – which look the same as they did in 2009!

The county’s leadership rescinded their support for wind development, that is in their 2009 ordinance, and their action to approve the testing tower permits for data gathering in 2014 and earlier this year. This change of opinion occurred after local investors spent over $1 million dollars to move the project forward. Dakota Power Community Wind would not have considered developing in southern Lincoln County if not for the warm welcome initially received and the existing ordinance in place. Beware – any new ventures looking to move to Lincoln County you also may face commissioners that change their minds based on personal tastes.

Will Lincoln County leadership guide the county forward and embrace this new technology and the modern energy-conscious economy? Or will we be stuck in the past while other areas reap the benefits of renewable power? Voice YOUR support for renewable energy. Contact your commissioners to make sure you voice is heard. The future of Lincoln County depends on it.