Debate over wind farms in South Dakota picks up

A prospective farm being built on the Hughes County-Hyde County line has sparked up a debate that has become popular amongst rural residents in recent years.
FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2021, file photo, wind turbines are silhouetted against the sky at dawn...
FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2021, file photo, wind turbines are silhouetted against the sky at dawn near Spearville, Kan. Evergy, Kansas' largest electric company expects to make its first big investments in solar energy over the next three years and increase wind generating capacity with the goal to produce no net carbon emissions as of 2045. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)((AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File))
Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 10:11 PM MDT
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PIERRE, S.D. - Ask any South Dakota farmer how they feel about wind turbines, and you’re likely to get a passionate answer.

“About six or seven years ago, if we got a wind farm application, every one loved the wind farm and the idea of them,” said South Dakota Public Utilities Commissioner (PUC) Chris Nelson. “Since then, we have seen a lot more division in people’s opinions of whether they want or don’t want the wind farm.”

That heated debate spilled over into a hearing before the Public Utilities Commission Wednesday evening, where the commission took public comment on a prospective wind farm that would be built in both Hughes and Hyde County.

Nick Nemec, a farmer in Holabird, testified in favor of the proposed wind farm.

“I don’t mind the wind turbines, they are a great source of income,” Nemec said. Nemec has one wind turbine on his roughly 6,000 acre farm. “We are going to get about $10,000 income off of one wind turbine. As you can see, it doesn’t take up much ground... The footprint of a wind turbine is about that of a rock pile anywhere else in the field.”

Those opposed to the presence of wind farms argue that they are an impediment to farmland, affect wildlife, and can make it difficult to apply spray from a crop-duster.

Those in favor argue that the economic development for the community, the green energy, and maintenance roads built by the turbine manufactures are all beneficial to them and their communities.

There are various requirements prospective wind farms must meet before they can be built, including property owner approval. Different counties have different rules governing how close a turbine can be to a living quarters, and the PUC applies rules that prevent things like noise or light from becoming an inconvenience to those who would be around turbines.

The PUC has never outright denied a permit to companies looking to build turbines, but Nelson says that the committee always attempts to put the interests of affected parties first.

“The PUC evaluates a permit application for a large wind farm, and our goal is to take the criteria that has been established by the state legislature in state law, and match that up with the proposed project and what the applicant is telling us.”