A coalition of farm and energy groups launched a campaign Tuesday asking voters to overturn restrictive wind turbine rules passed last month in Lincoln County.
The ordinance requires turbines to be spaced at least a half mile from homes unless the energy company obtains a waiver from the neighboring landowner.
Supporters of the long-debated measure say distance is the surest way to protect property owners from the impact large scale wind energy projects might have on property values and public health. Some landowners had pushed for a one-mile setback.
Backers of the planned Dakota Power Community Wind farm say the setbacks dash any hopes of renewable energy development in the fast-growing county.
A petition drive last month set up a July 18 public referendum that includes all residents of Sioux Falls south of 57th Street.
A “no” vote would undo the setback requirements. A “yes” vote would keep the rules in place.
The South Dakota Farm Bureau, South Dakota Farmer’s Union, Ag United for South Dakota, wind energy promoters and turbine-servicing businesses gathered at South Dakota Corn Growers Tuesday morning to support a repeal.
The group organized as a ballot question committee in Lincoln County under the umbrella “Farmers and Friends of Wind Energy.”
Backers of commercial wind see the potential for additional farm revenue, said Brian Minish of Val-Add Service Corporation and Dakota Power Community Wind.
Minish previously worked with some of the ag groups on ethanol development.
The prospect of additional payments for landowners unites ag boosters who sometimes don’t see eye to eye on other issues, Minish said.
“This is one thing that all the farm organizations agree on: This is good for rural America,” he said.
Sara Bovill, President of the Lincoln County Farm Bureau, hopes to see the rules overturned. Her family farm could benefit from payments as high as $10,000 a year for the placement of turbines.
“It allows us to harvest something other than crops off our land,” Bovill said.
Beresford Mayor Jim Fedderson pointed to the $25 million in estimated tax revenue over 25 years from a 300-turbine development as a selling point. Schools, counties and townships would share the revenue.
“Most of the townships don’t have enough money to put gravel on the roads,” Fedderson said.
Opponents are ramping up their own grassroots efforts.
We Care-SD’s activism within the south Lincoln County footprint of the announced project have pushed elected officials to tread lightly into large-scale wind for nearly three years.
Chairwoman Winnie Peterson balked at the notion that wind energy means money for local governments. Townships would have to use money to deal with additional traffic on their rural roads, for example.
The real motivator from wind backers is profit, Peterson said. Fedderson and Bovill are connected to the project and stand to gain personally. The opponents are concerned about what the project means for their health, safety and property.
“They’re motivated to do this for lots of reasons, most of them are financial,” Peterson said. “When’s the last time you’ve asked a used car salesman to educate you on a car?”
Signs and banners bearing the nonprofit’s distinctive logo – a red slash cut through a turbine – blanket the county from Canton to Beresford.
Its Facebook page regularly highlights news stories from around the nation and world casting wind energy in a negative light. It recently revamped its website, which includes links to news, research, and a “get involved” tab.
On Monday, the page posted video of a recently-built turbine ablaze in Harris, Iowa.
The group has framed the vote as profit-driven industry using $25,000 in taxpayer dollars to force an election in hopes of altering the county’s rural landscape and lifestyle.
It has put a call out for volunteers to counter organizing efforts by the project’s backers on social media, as well.
Minish sees promise in the vote, particularly after a poll his company commissioned showed strong support for wind energy.
South Sioux Falls will support the development of wind, he suspects.
Opponents painted the poll as a sham with results bolstered by questions designed to put the project in a positive light, pointing to the results of their own canvassing of property owners in the area in 2015.