Palo Alto County is going through growing pains. Some of our landowners have proposed a wind farm. The county Board of Supervisors has been challenged to write an ordinance that addresses the concerns of all the landowners involved, both participating and not. This ordinance will also speak to possible future wind farms, and many counties in the area are waiting to see how Palo Alto will proceed.
One of our supervisors, Linus Solberg, many years ago came up with the “Good Neighbor Policy” to address the siting of hog confinement buildings. This requires a setback of a half a mile from homes. If you wish to build closer to a neighbor, you can ask that neighbor to sign a waiver. By and large this policy has been a great success.
Now we have wind companies that want us to toss out our “Good Neighbor Policy” for them. There are not enough acres on the farms of participating landowners to make a big enough wind farm and they have drawn a line. The “Good Neighbor Policy” goes or they do.
They are willing to give us 1,500-foot setbacks from homes, which they say is generous. It is generous only because they say so. Many communities across the country have much larger setbacks. Wind turbines give the illusion of gracefully sweeping the sky but depending on direction, speed and even humidity, they can make quite a racket. Just like any piece of machinery they likely get louder with age.
On the advice of counsel, the supervisors also asked the wind company to bury their connector power lines by trenching them in 7 feet deep in order to avoid damaging our county tile systems. They balked at this extra expense and again threatened to leave.
When – and if – drainage districts have problems, will we be met with the same smiling agents we see now or with a row of flint-faced lawyers?
Setbacks from property lines is another point of contention. The future of farming lies in efficiency. We need to be able to use aerial applications for fighting funguses in humid weather to seeding cover crops. Aerial applicators are adamant that it is not safe for them to work within half a mile of a wind farm. Even if some of them are willing to risk the task, the price is higher. If your non-participating farm happens to be surrounded by participating farms, then an important tool to maintain your land properly has been taken from you without one-half mile setbacks from property lines. Again, waivers could be obtained if a neighbor was willing to have the turbine closer.
Not many landowners are interested in telling their neighbors what they can or can’t do on their own land. Landowners who want wind turbines feel burdened by the needs of their neighbors. Wind companies resist protecting our important tiling infrastructure or protecting the homes and businesses of the communities they claim they are helping. Landowners who want wind turbines should be defending the property rights of themselves and their neighbors.
The wind companies should be catering to our communities, not the other way around. They say if we don’t capitulate to their needs they will leave, but no matter the outcome, leave they will for they do not live here, we do.
Now is the time to speak up before these ordinances and turbines are set. Be heard rather than letting the people who do not farm speak for us, farmers have been too quiet, our supervisors have not heard from enough of you. This will be the last time our counties will truly have power over these large companies, let’s get it right.
JANNA SWANSON own lands and farms, with her husband, Paul, in Palo Alto County near Ayrshire.
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