Local farmers oppose, favor proposed $300 million wind farm
Credit: By Gwen Albers | The Capital Journal | Jul 22, 2022 | www.capjournal.com ~~
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Harlan Smith will never lease his land to a wind farm.
The 76-year-old, who farms 9,200 acres in Hughes, Hyde and Sully counties, believes wind farms are an inefficient way to produce electricity, an eyesore, noisy and turn properties into landfills when no longer useful.
On the other hand, Hyde County farmer Nick Nemec favors the development of wind farms.
“It’s a nice source of income,” Nemec, who has one wind turbine on his 5,000 acres, said. “We get paid on the amount of electricity produced. The first full year, we got $14,000.”
He noted that a wind turbine has a “very small footprint so just giving up a teeny bit of land for that $14,000” is worth it.
“I farm around rock piles that are bigger than that wind turbine footprint,” the 63-year-old said.
Harlan and Nemec shared their comments during conversations with the Capital Journal about ENGIE North America’s plans to develop a nearly 47,000-acre wind farm that spans Hughes and Hyde counties. Of the proposed 71 wind towers for the $300 million North Bend Wind Project, 27 would be in eastern Hughes County.
ENGIE has leased 24,591 acres in Harrold and Pleasant Valley, Webster and Butte townships. The company will need permission from the Hughes County Board of Adjustment before developing the land. A public hearing will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the large courtroom on the third floor of the county courthouse at 104 E. Capitol Ave. in Pierre.
The land in Hughes County is zoned for agriculture District A, which allows farms and single-family homes. It also allows wind farms with a conditional-use permit.
If approved, ENGIE plans to begin construction later this year. The company has signed leases with 80 landowners, according to Anthony Crutch, lead developer for ENGIE.
The project also needs approval from the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, Crutch said.
Hyde County, which approved the project last year, got its first wind farm in 2003. FPL Energy in Florida operates the 27 turbines. Hyde County also has a Triple H wind farm, which includes 92 towers.
The financial benefit is based on production and the number of wind turbines on a property, Crutch said.
Harlan and others say the development of wind farms in Hyde County has pitted neighbors against neighbors and turned friends into enemies.
“They think it will save their farm,” Smith said. “They have been farming for generations and generations and all of a sudden we need windmills to keep going. I will survive without this mess on my farm that will pay $10,000 a year.”
“I would say the vast majority of people are supportive and there is a very small handful of very vocal opponents,” he said.
Former Hyde County Commissioner Mel Buchheim was on the board when the first wind farm was approved.
“I’ve been against it since day one,” Buchheim said. “For the first project, I thought it might be alright. Since they went up, I never had another good thing to say.”
The 64-year-old livestock farmer said during construction he didn’t like the increased traffic and expressed concerns about safety. He also said the wind farms divided the community.
“Some people are neighbors or friends, and now they don’t talk,” Buchheim said. “One guy likes them, the other guy don’t. If they plan on letting them come in, they better make sure they have all their ducks in a row.”
Paul Knox refused to lease the land from his 1,200-acre farm to Triple H, yet deals with the wind towers daily. That’s one of the reasons he moved from the farm in southwest Hyde County to Highmore.
“We got shadow flickers on the house at night and the noise,” he said. “It gets worse at night when the low winds subside and the higher winds kick in. That noise penetrates buildings at night. It’s kind of like a car stereo’s base you hear thumping.”
The 55-year-old said he and his best friend had a falling out over the towers.
“We haven’t spoken to each other in three to four years,” Knox said. “I get tired of hearing guys who have a net worth of several million (dollars) who don’t need wind turbines to save the family farm.”
Hughes County landowner Don Irion three to four years ago refused to lease his property southwest of Harrold for a wind tower and building a road to access the tower.
“I wasn’t interested, not for one tower,” Irion said. “I think they told me it would bring in $5,000 a year.”
He also understands that when a tower’s useful life ends, the landowner is responsible for taking them down.
“For the money you make, it’s not worth it,” Irion said.
Nemec said the developer is supposed to remove the tower and foundation.
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