AKASKA – An Israeli company wants to build 3,200 acres of solar farms in Walworth County.
But Doral Renewables LLC is facing heavy pushback from neighbors of its planned sites in Walworth County, hundreds of whom are organizing in hopes of stifling the project. It would be one of the largest solar farms in the country.
“I’m not against solar completely,” said Dave Kulm, an Akaska area resident and a member of the newly formed Concerned Residents of Walworth County that convened Sept. 25 at the Akaska Community Center. “But we need to protect ranchers and farmers.”
The opposition comes about a year after word spread that Walworth County was being targeted for the development after the company began working with some willing area landowners open to housing solar farms on their property.
County commission imposes moratorium on solar-related projects
And in May, county commissioners placed a moratorium on the permitting of solar-related projects within its jurisdiction, a response to public pressure from nearby property owners like Kulm.
But that pause is slated to last only through next spring, and the opposition group, which is voicing environmental and safety concerns, wants the project permanently blocked or new regulations that will keep it away from their properties.
“If these ordinances aren’t adopted, it could break the county down the road,” lifelong resident Corey Eisemann said, who noted the proposed site would be built near a water intake site in New Evarts, among the fastest growing communities in the north-central South Dakota county.
A list of group demands includes a 1-mile setback ordinance from occupied dwellings, and 1,000 feet from property lines.
County Commissioner Jim Houck, named by the project’s opponents as their toughest foe on the commission, did not respond to a request for comment from The Dakota Scout. Doral Renewables did not return calls or emails seeking comment.
The use of solar panels as a renewable energy source has increased in recent years amid growing concerns around climate change, which has also driven Congress to create a host of federal incentives for alternative energy projects.
Solar farm will yield environmental, economic benefits, company says
The company touts its project as not only an environmental benefit, but an economic booster for the area as well.
“The Oahe Solar project will make significant contributions to South Dakota’s renewable energy portfolio and will provide job opportunities throughout construction and operations,” according to Doral Renewable’s website. “It will also substantially increase local and state tax revenues.”
But members of Concerned Citizens of Walworth County, about 100 of whom showed up to the Akaska gathering, are not convinced.
They contend that hazardous materials used in the building of solar panels could create toxic runoff and harm water quality and wildlife that carries the area’s tourism industry.
“Practically, the whole state drinks water out of this river,” Selby resident Brian Beaman said, referring to the nearby Missouri River. “What happens when toxins runoff into the river?”
The resistance Doral Renewables is facing is the latest in what has been a series of squabbles between South Dakota landowners and out-of-state businesses pursuing green-energy projects here. The long-planned Gregory Pump Station Project, which would have used water pump stations to generate electricity, was suspended by project organizers earlier this year. A pair of carbon sequestration companies planning pipelines through South Dakota have also hit snags amid heavy public opposition.
WEB Water already taps Missouri River water for customers, including towns, throughout north-central and northeastern South Dakota. WEB is looking to expand, and Aberdeen and BDM Rural Water have joined the effort in hopes of accessing the Missouri to expand their water capacity.