The Walworth County Commission has decided that solar power plants pose such a threat to the health and well-being of the good people of Mobridge, Glenham, Selby, Java, Lowry, and Akaska that they must be kept at least a mile away from homes and 1000 feet from property lines:
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, “Walworth County Sets Boundaries for Solar Developments,” SDPB Radio, 2023.11.20].
Let’s compare the one-mile setback for solar farms to setbacks for other industrial activities in Walworth County.
Walworth County’s zoning ordinance establishes setbacks ranging from a quarter mile to two miles for concentrated animal feeding operations, depending on the number and type of livestock:
Walworth County establishes setbacks for other industrial undertakings:
- Sand/gravel quarries, mineral exploration/extraction, rock crushers, and concrete/asphalt plants must be at least 1000 feet from residences, 120 feet from public rights-of-way, and 25 feet from property lines.
- Telecom towers over 100 feet tall: 1000 feet from off-site residences, businesses, and public buildings; 500 feet from on-site or lessor’s residence; tower height from property line. Monopole towers must be 750 feet from any other towers. Self-supporting or guyed towers must be 1500 feet from similar towers.
- Shooting ranges: 1/4 mile from residences, commercial buildings, churches, and schools; 3 miles from city limits.
- Wind turbines: 2 miles from off-site residences, businesses, and churches; 1000 feet from other buildings or structures; double turbine height (ground to vertical blade tip) from property line.
- Waste disposal sites: 1/2 mile from dump site property line to nearest residence or business.
- Junkyard/salvage yard: 1000 feet from nearest residence; 330 feet from property line or right-of-way.
- Sewage treatment plant: 1/4 mile from property line to nearest residence.
So, in the eyes of Walworth County, solar panels, which don’t moo or pee or poop, pose as much danger to the environment and rural quality of life as 12,000 grown hogs or 4,000 cattle. Solar panels, which have no moving parts, are only half as risky as the towering, whirling, ice-flinging blades of wind turbines. Solar panels, which are usually no more than 15 feet off the ground (although one study says putting them a little higher can keep them cooler and more efficient), pose over five times the risk to nearby houses as radio towers, which can be toppled by wind or devil-worshipping radical hippies. Solar panels, which don’t explode, are four times more hazardous than shooting ranges. Solar farms, which produce no noise or dust, pose more than five times the inconvenience to neighbors as gravel quarries. And solar farms, which have a keen interest in avoiding having their equipment break and pollute, pose four times the risk to the environment of landfills, which emit all sorts of pollutants into the air, water, and soil.
Walworth County looks at one of the cleanest, most promising industrial developments that could come its way and passes zoning restrictions that, compared to its other industrial setbacks, are ridiculous.
Related Reading: Walworth County is not crossed by the Dakota Access or Keystone oil pipelines. When the Public Utilities Commission approved its permit for TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline across East River, it allowed TransCanada to run its high-pressure—and, as we’ve discovered, leaky—tar sands oil pipeline right through wetlands and within 500 feet of residences.