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A Careful Approach Suggested for Wind-Farm Rules

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, South Dakota's wind turbines generated about 24% of the state's electricity in 2019. (Adobe Stock)
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, South Dakota's wind turbines generated about 24% of the state's electricity in 2019. (Adobe Stock)
July 17, 2020

PIERRE, S.D. - The wind-energy industry has seen growth in South Dakota in recent years. But for more projects to move forward, a new report says local governments and developers need to be diligent in sorting out zoning issues.

South Dakota consistently lands in the top 20 states in wind-energy rankings, but these projects still run into local opposition.

Lu Nelson, policy associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, says their analysis looked at setback ordinances, which define the minimum distance a wind turbine can be built from properties. He says zoning laws aren't a roadblock for development, and projects usually adhere to them - but there are some common concerns.

"One of the issues is that if the setback standards are too restrictive, they can absolutely stop the development of any wind energy in a county," says Nelson. "Or greatly reduce the number of landowners that can take advantage of hosting a turbine."

Nelson says that's why county governments need to be clear about their standards, and recognize the effects they can have on future development. He adds that developers also need to work with local leaders to communicate effectively with property owners.

Prior to going online last year, the Crocker Wind Farm saw opposition from residents who voiced several concerns, including transparency in the permitting process.

In examining three states, Nelson says they found a wide range of distance standards. He says that underscores the idea that a localized effort helps groups in each area define what works best for them, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.

"I think the real key is just make sure that it is finding that right set of zoning requirements to allow for development," says Nelson, "while also achieving different priorities that local officials might have. "

Other groups, such as the National Conference of State Legislatures, say uniform laws could benefit development by not forcing projects to navigate a regulatory maze.

Along with South Dakota, the Center for Rural Affairs report looks at setback ordinances in Iowa and Nebraska. Despite increased activity, South Dakota still trails many neighboring states in wind energy development.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - SD