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Walworth County sets boundaries for solar developments

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Solar panel (file)

The Walworth County Commission has established a minimum setback distance for solar power plants.

This comes as some residents push back against a proposed energy project in development near Mobridge.

Oahe Solar is a large solar project being built in central South Dakota. While it could potentially power thousands of households, 350 megawatts doesn’t do much if residents aren’t on board.

It’s a tense subject for the community, reflected in resident Linda Neiman’s call for an open process at the most recent commission meeting.

“If you’re going to discuss it today, I hope you’re very transparent in your discussions so that we can know what’s going on with the ordinance," Neiman said. "I know this isn’t a hearing, but we need to be kept informed. We need transparency from the board whether it’s your zoning board or your commission board.”

Commissioner Justin Jungwirth said when it comes to a land-use debate, what matters most is local landowners. He said he has seen support for an ordinance limiting how close solar projects can be built to homes.

“I went to the one meeting in Mobridge, and that’s the majority of what they want – there’s some other items in there that they’d want," Jungwrith said. "Some of them were covering the ordinance, but the gist of what they’re asking for that we listened to – them being the taxpayer – is one mile and a thousand feet.”

Commissioner James Hauck explained the “one mile and a thousand feet” proposal.

“That is from the edge of your house to the first solar panel," Hauck said. "In between that will be your grass buffer area and your fence. So, your fence is going to be closer than a mile, but it will be (at least) a mile from the wall of your house. Not the front gate or driveway. From the wall of your house to the first solar panel.”

The proposed regulations were approved on 4-1 vote. Other concerns like fire safety and potential impacts to wetlands were raised at the meeting.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture