Some see giant wind turbines as an obstruction. To Norm Rasmussen, they’re “majestic.”
As Lincoln County officials write rules for wind towers into their zoning ordinance, landowners are split over whether a wind energy project is right for them.
The proposed Dakota Power Community Wind project is still in the testing phase, but it has met much opposition already. If approved, hundreds of towers would cover much of southern Lincoln County. They would connect to a new transmission system being built, the Rock Island Clean Line, that would send the power to Chicago and Eastern states.
Rasmussen and his wife, Altie, have farmed west of Hudson for 47 years. He grew up a mile west, where his brother lives now.
Rasmussen grows corn, beans, oats and alfalfa and background-feeds some cattle. His property is near the southern end of the proposed wind project’s boundary.
He and his wife have signed an agreement that would allow towers to be placed on their property. Even if the project is approved, it’s not a guarantee that a tower will be built on their land. That all would depend on where engineers decide is the most beneficial place to put them.
Revenue from the wind farm – 4 percent of it – would be split among landowners who have turbines and access roads on their property. A smaller percentage of that revenue would go to those who signed up but did not have a tower placed on their land.
Whether or not the turbines go on his property, Rasmussen would like to see South Dakota putting its wind to work like surrounding states are doing.
“We fight water lines, we fight gas lines, we fight oil lines, we fight oil refineries. This, to me, is the greenest, safest form of energy,” he said while sitting in his shop on a warm April morning.
He recounted the first time he experienced a wind tower up close. On a road trip across Iowa, he pulled off the road near one of the giant towers and rolled down his window. He was surprised by how quiet and slow-moving the turbine was.
“It’s such a majestic thing. I just don’t see what the fight is,” he said.
Through he doesn’t agree with those opposing the wind project, he said he wouldn’t let it get between him and his neighbors.
“You want to drive a Ford, and I’ll drive a Chevy,” he said.
Two miles northeast of Rasmussen, as the crow flies, lives Darrel Sogn. Sogn wasn’t interested when the company approached him about building wind towers on the land that five generations of his family has farmed for more than 100 years.
Sogn is on the Lincoln County Planning and Zoning Commission that’s writing the rules for wind towers. He said it will take time to put together some good guidelines, and he wants to do what’s best for the county.
He’s hopeful that they can reach an agreement that won’t pit neighbor against neighbor. “I don’t want it to make hard feelings,” he said from his dining-room table, looking over the fields that one day could be dotted with wind towers.
The planning and zoning commission will be working with a consultant to draft the ordinance for another couple of months. The rules will get a public hearing before being approved and will go through a similar process with the board of county commissioners.
Guidelines for setbacks will be a big part of the rules, Sogn said. That’s important, he added, because this area is more densely populated than most other counties where wind projects have been proposed.
Zoning guidelines in other counties require the towers to be built at least 1,000 feet from any residence. Some set the distance at a quarter-mile. Taller towers generally require a larger setback.
Another planning commission workshop is set for May 5. Coming May 18, the commission will hold a hearing on a temporary use permit for additional meteorological towers that will collect weather data and tell engineers where the best place is for the wind turbines.
When the company applied in February for a different type of permit, it was denied. Company officials later were told that they had applied for the wrong type of permit.
Rob Johnson of Dakota Plains Energy, developer of the Dakota Power Community Wind project, said they’ve met all of the conditions in the statute, and he’ll be “surprised and dismayed” if the permit is turned down again.
Johnson said the meteorological towers are small and unobtrusive. “I tell people to picture a flag pole with spinning spoons,” he said.
One meteorological tower that went up a year ago near Beresford has showed conditions are favorable for a wind farm.
When he first heard about the wind farm project, Norm Solem thought it sounded like a good investment. He had a friend who invested in an ethanol plant, and it turned out to be very profitable. “I thought, gee whiz, I missed the boat on that one,” he said.
He started researching wind projects, and the problems started to outweigh the benefits, he said. He’s heard of complaints about the low-frequency noise from the towers. He said it would also be a hassle to farm around them.
“I look at anything on my field as an obstruction. I like to drive straight from one end to another,” he said.
Solem has a corn and soybean operation on land that his great-grandfather homesteaded in 1882. It sits in the middle of the proposed wind project.
Most of his neighbors don’t farm but own acreages. He said it’s unfair that they wouldn’t have a say if a farmer wanted to put up a tower near their homes.
While the Harrisburg and Tea areas are becoming more populated with people who commute to Sioux Falls for work, Solem said he’s noticed that it’s not the same at other wind projects. Other areas are more sparsely populated.
He drove through the project near Toronto in southern Deuel County. Looking for a door to knock on and ask what the neighbors thought of the project, he said the closest house was three miles away in some cases.
“I guess that’s not like where I live,” he said.
In Lincoln County, acreages are in demand.
“That’s a lot of people that would be affected by this,” Solem said. He encouraged others to research the issue.
Since his first wind tower encounter in Iowa, Rasmussen has had the chance to visit other wind projects, including one near Wessington Springs. He said he’s learned from those tours and from a friend who raises purebred cattle near another wind project in the Mitchell area that the towers are unobtrusive.
What the towers did bring in those areas, he said, were better roads and a bigger tax base. That’s something Lincoln County could use, he said.
Residents who move to acreages south of Sioux Falls oppose other operations that would bring in revenue such as feed lots and hog barns, he said. Rasmussen said wind towers are much less offensive.
“How do we move on?” he said. “These aren’t noisy. They don’t smell.”
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