Codington County Commissioners and area residents seemingly impressed by the proposed Dakota Range Wind turbine project in northern Codington, southwestern Roberts and Grant counties need to ask harder questions.
Is this good for South Dakota? Or, are we blindly helping raise our monthly electric rates and taxes as we subsidize a wind system that economically cannot be justified.
Northeastern South Dakota is beginning to understand what the southeastern and central part of our state has been fighting for the past year – wind turbines transforming neighborhoods.
Wind energy proponents, with a sophisticated and practiced plan, move in slowly with promises of economic rewards to land owners and taxing governments.
Here is what the company proposing the newest wind farm writes on its website cover page.
“Dakota Range Wind will create jobs and generate an entirely new source of long-term revenue for local schools, government services, and property owners. The total direct financial impact to the region is likely to be in the millions over approximately 30 years, with additional indirect economic benefits greatly exceeding that number.
“Revenue from this project will inject millions of dollars into the economies of Codington, Grant and Roberts Counties while supporting local merchants, contractors and equipment suppliers. The power from Dakota Range Wind will be delivered into the regional electrical grid, helping to diversify South Dakota’s energy portfolio.”
Initially, 48 wind towers would be built. Many more would follow.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
As a county commissioner struggling to pay bills, it’s easy to be enticed by the Siren’s song.
Codington County Commission Chairman Myron Johnson, who should be neutral in the debate, appears to have thrown in with the wind developers.
“They really had done their homework,” he was reported as saying in the Oct. 7 Watertown Public Opinion report of the wind company’s presentation to the commissioners the day before. “So, when it came time for the public hearing, most of the questions had been answered. That really makes a lot of difference when you’ve got good communication. That’s the key right there.”
Perhaps commissioners, and the South Dakota Public Utilities Commissions, which will hold a hearing in November should ask harder questions.
Landowners, who are being courted to allow wind turbines on their property, need to do so as well.
It is interesting that agricultural property owners, who are the most defensive of their property rights, seem to be eager to give away long-term rights.
If they, as well as area county commissioners and the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission reached out to our rural electrical associations, they might hear a different message.
Because wind is variable, a dependable power system is required. In South Dakota, those are the Big Stone power plant plus natural gas power plants, such as one recently built north of Brookings near White. Wind power makes those systems inefficient. You and I pay for that inefficiency.
But wind developers are seductive. They meet individually with land owners, offering payments to use their land. The easement language often prevents neighbors from sharing payment information.
Easement language can be complicated and landowners should have it reviewed by an attorney before signing. An easement I’ve read from a project near Pierre is 43 pages and because exact tower locations are not determined, it in effect gives wind companies an amazing degree of power over a person’s property.
Once built, tax credit rights often are sold by the initial developers to huge corporations.
Additionally, wind farms transform the landscape. The U.S. government has granted exemptions to wind companies allowing each turbine to kill thousands of protected birds, including Bald Eagles. Other studies are showing psychological effects from the sound and shadows created by rotating wind blades.
It is not all warm and fuzzy green energy.
In the end, windmills may dominate northeast South Dakota’s skyline. But let’s make sure we fully understand the impacts of allowing our landscape to be transformed.
Brad Johnson is a Watertown businessman and journalist who is active in state and local affairs.