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A county-level referendum July 18 on rules dictating the placement of windmills could determine the fate of a proposed wind farm near Sioux Falls, S.D., and reverberate to other South Dakota communities considering wind development.
The rules, part of an ordinance passed in May by the Lincoln County Commission, would require wind turbines to be placed at least a half-mile from homes on adjoining properties, a distance that would make it impossible to site turbines in the county, according to the developers, Dakota Power Community Wind.
A vote to reject the rules and restore the previous setback limits would green-light the 300-megawatt wind farm, developers say. But a vote to affirm the restrictions would kill the project, and send a signal around the state that wind-development projects are vulnerable to determined local opposition, people on both sides of the controversy agree.
“This is an important vote,” said Brian Minish, a Dakota Power board member and the company’s spokesman. “South Dakota has a great wind resource, the fifth best in the country, but we’ve fallen behind other states in taking advantage of our resource, partly because of the fights that spring up at the local level whenever a new project is proposed. If this project goes down, one near our largest city, it could be a bellwether in the state that could really affect wind development.”
Opponents of the project say a dozen South Dakota communities or more could be affected by the vote. “This will be a crucial precedent for people all over South Dakota who want to preserve their right to protect their property,” said Winnie Peterson, director of WE-CARE S.D., a group formed to fight the wind farm. “There are at least a dozen counties where there are groups working to protect themselves against wind projects, and in many of those areas there are moratoriums in place where they are waiting to see what we do in the second most populated county in the state. This will have an impact.”
Proponents of the wind farm, a group that includes the developers and farm groups, argue the project will bring a variety of local benefits, in addition to contributing to the development of clean, renewable energy. These include allowing local farmers to develop a second stream of income, increasing tax revenue for the county’s schools and roads, and making the area more attractive to large corporations committed to using more renewable energy.
But backers of the ordinance argue that restrictive setback rules are needed to protect those who have chosen not to offer up their land to the project. Harms from a large wind farm could include sleep-interrupting noise, shadow flicker from rotating turbine blades, and reduced property values and economic development, they say.
Opponents also dispute the environmental rationale for wind development. “Every time you look at wind energy, it’s like peeling an onion—you see that it falls far short of delivering on the promises made for it,” Peterson told Bloomberg BNA. “There are better technologies on the horizon that are more efficient, less costly, and that create far less negative impact on community and the environment.”
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The ordinance can be found at http://src.bna.com/qN1
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