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People in rural South Dakota are rising in opposition to lifestyle threats brought on by industrialized agriculture and wind energy.
Surprisingly, a common foe is local government, often made up of friends and neighbors. Too often they appear to side with corporate interests instead of the people.
Sometimes it is because the law ties their hands.
Much attention has focused on agriculture, an industry transforming from family farms into industrial operations often controlled by out-of-area interests.
Meanwhile, spinning below the radar is the wind industry which is subtly changing our landscape and way of life.
It is represented as an environmentally friendly way to produce more energy and reduce air pollutants.
But it is nothing but a transfer of money from existing electric customers and taxpayers to international corporations grabbing major tax deductions.
The reward is so great that sophisticated wind farm proponents go to great lengths to ensure success, said Gregg Hubner, a South Dakota Certified General real estate appraiser from Avon. Generally, they cultivate local leaders to convince friends wind farms are a good thing.
Hubner, who has a large windfarm encroaching on his neighborhood, became so disgusted he wrote a book about industry practices. It’s called “Paradise Destroyed, The Destruction of Rural Living by the Wind Energy Scam.”
People in northeastern South Dakota should read it. New, large wind-farms are in the planning process in Deuel, Grant, Clark, Day and Codington Counties.
Codington County is vulnerable as zoning setbacks mean towers can be built 1,000 feet from occupied residences, whereas Clark County recently expanded it to .75 miles.
Deuel County residents also are fighting to expand the distance, but may be losing the battle.
Hubner said “crony capitalism” is at the heart of the wind industry with federal political leaders shoving taxpayer money into pockets of large national companies. Campaign donations often flow in reverse.
Wind towers, at $3 million each, generally can’t be supported in the private marketplace. So, the U.S. government offers tax credits, which Hubner estimated for a 43-tower project near his house to be about $6.4 million a year.
That money does not flow back to land-owners who signed property rights away for 30 years. Instead, the reward for most South Dakotans is a decline in their rural residential property value.
He cited studies showing property values dropping anywhere from 7 percent to 40 percent. Simply put, he writes, “would one build or buy a home in an industrial wind park if he could build or buy a similar home where there was no wind park?”
There are other drawbacks. Utility companies generally must buy wind power and it is more expensive than power generated from coal or natural gas. Eventually, rates are hiked and consumers pay the bill.
Other environmental issues are emerging. There is the sound of the turbines, flickers from blade shadow and ground vibrations.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama also signed legislation allowing wind operators to kill up to 4,200 eagles during a wind-farm’s 30-year life span. Multiply that by dozens of companies and the problem grows.
“Thousands and thousands of bats and birds are killed from wind turbines every year,” Hubner said.
Mostly, the addition of hundreds of wind-towers changes South Dakota’s landscape and lifestyle with little or no reward to area residents.
Hubner said wind companies are skilled at convincing a few local people to be their advocates. They pit neighbors against one another, forcing them to sign contracts preventing them from disclosing payments.
They cultivate state and federal political leaders. They lobby zoning board members and county commissioners.
They work to get zoning ordinances created in their favor. Sometimes people who sit on zoning boards have interests in the projects being considered.
When controversy hits, as we’ve seen recently, private property owners and the public have few opportunities to protest.
The rules are clear. Corporate interests win under the guise of economic development.
Hubner’s message should be heard.
The days of the little guy getting run over need to end.
Brad Johnson is a Watertown businessman and journalist who is active in state and local affairs.
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