After cold reception in Scambler; proposal moves east to location near Lake Lizzie, Pelican Lake

An alternative energy proposal for a wind turbine and solar panel installation in Scambler Township died before it even received a hearing before the pubic.

But the proposal was revived almost immediately –for a newly identified site in neighboring Dunn Township. Concerns over an immense windmill, nearly 500 feet tall, within the safety zone of the Pelican Rapids city airport, were among the issues in Scambler Township.

The airport is not expected to be an issue at the Dunn location, which is further east. A hearing before the Dunn planning and zoning commission will be Dec. 18, 7 p.m. at Dunn Town Hall.

The alternative energy installation, which is essentially identical to the one pulled from the Scambler site, is northwest of Lake Lizzie and Dunvilla; and south of Pelican Lake –on agricultural land at the corner of 215th Ave. and 490th St.

$4.5 million project dropped in Scambler

The opposition in Scambler was evidently strong enough that the developer, Juhl Energy, in collaboration with Lake Region Electric Cooperative, withdrew the $4.5 million proposal.

“We are dropping that site from consideration,” said Tim Thompson, chief executive officer of Lake Region Electric. “We’re looking at another site.”

Part of the motivation for the Scambler site was its proximity to a nearby sub-station, which would transmit the energy.

Petition opposed solar-wind project

More than 20 Scambler Township residents signed a petition, identifying six broad concerns. Scambler zoning board members received dozens of calls –virtually all unfavorable toward the project.

The plan had a second round of fact-finding and discussion Nov. 27, but the Scambler zoning board session barely started when Phil Ratz made a motion in opposition of the project.

By unanimous vote, the Scambler zoning board voted to recommend denial of the project.

As a review panel, the planning committee does not have the authority to approve or deny -but the recommendation is sent to the Scambler Township board, which was expected to review and discuss the matter Dec. 14.

The withdrawal of the proposal

The Scambler planning committee’s action also means a previously scheduled Dec. 12 public hearing is cancelled.

The township board has the authority to approve the project, with or without a favorable zoning board recommendation, but typically, elected town boards and city councils do not override such recommendations. Also, two of the zoning board members, Dave Ritchie and Todd Langseth, are also members of the five-member town board.

In making his motion, zoning board member Phil Ratz said that, while he was agreeable to many aspects of the proposal, he “couldn’t get past” the concerns that the turbine was proposed within an airport safety zone.

Further the height exceeded the 350 foot limit by more than 300 feet. The turbine would have been located within 10,000 feet of the Pelican Rapids city airport runway.

A related concern was the proximity to Grove Lake Lutheran Church.

“Our duty is to protect the residents of Scambler Township,” said Ratz.

His motion passed unanimously.

Petition raised concerns over short notice

The petition, which was presented to the zoning board, revealed several additional concerns –some neighborhood concerns, and some regarding the alternative energy industry in general:

• Short notice. Some residents felt that the project, which apparently had been in planning for two years, was presented rapidly in order to fall in calendar year 2017.

“If public input had truly been desired, this project would have been presented long before this time,” stated the petition.

• The economic value to members of Lake Region Electric was questioned. While $150,000 in energy savings and rate stabilization was cited as a benefit, the petition contended that it represented $5 per year per co-op member.

• The petition pointed to concerns of a decline in property values, with a the large windmill and 1,500 solar panels, visible from County Road 23 and the Grove Church.

• There is not sufficient science and research into the steady noise of wind generation and the long term effects of electromagnetic interference on humans.

• The petition further questioned whether government incentive and tax breaks for solar and wind can be justified as a replacement for conventionally-produced energy.

In conclusion, the petition stated that “a project such as this deserves more time and consideration that the short period of time given.”

Landowner didn’t anticipate level of local opposition to wind-solar project

For Patrick Peck, a farmkid from rural Pelican Rapids, the idea of an innovative, alternative energy installation on the family farm seemed like a positive, progressive use of ancestral farmland.

When Peck was approached with an offer to place a wind turbine and 1,500 solar panels on his family’s Scambler Township land, he was open. A 1970 graduate of Pelican Rapids High school, Peck said the land remains in the family –though he moved away for a career elsewhere.

“I was not the developer,” said Peck, from his seasonal home in Arizona. “I wanted to make sure the neighbors and the (Grove Lake Lutheran) church members were acceptable. I didn’t want them upset…but I thought I would have gone along with the project, because if it would have been a benefit tio Lake Region Electric members.”

Peck has fond memories of Lake Region, which brought electricity to rural areas.

“My parents always told me that electricity on the farm was the best thing in the world,” said Peck, noting that the farm didn’t have an indoor bathroom until the 1960s.

There was some financial benefit, acknowledged Peck, but he wanted to emphasize that the 20 year lease payments were intended to basically cover annual property taxes, and not a matter of substantial financial gain.

Some Scambler residents evidently thought it was the Peck family that initiated the project. “My position was numeral … I just wanted people to understand it wasn’t my project,” he said. “I just viewed it as a benefit to Lake Region and its members–and the project happened to be proposed on our land.”

“I didn’t want to stop progress,” said Peck. “Times are changing, and we’re looking for sources of energy other than coal. Solar and wind are a wave of the future.”

Louis Hoglund, managing editor