Capitol News Bureau

House Panel Kills Its Leader's Legislation Seeking Longer Setbacks For South Dakota Wind Farms

PIERRE, S.D. - Legislation failed Wednesday that would have substantially expanded the setback distances from neighboring properties required for wind turbines in South Dakota.

The House Commerce and Energy Committee voted 10-2 against HB 1226.

"I think we should proceed with caution," Representative Carl Perry, an Aberdeen Republican, warned.

Utilities and cooperatives increasingly get electricity from wind farms in South Dakota.

"They've committed to going green, which is supposed to be a good thing," Representative Mark Willadsen, a Sioux Falls Republican, said. He asked for the bill's defeat.

The panel's chairman, Representative Tim Rounds, a Pierre Republican, agreed it should die but also suggested there should be a deeper look at connections between people's health and wind farms.

"This is an issue that isn't going to go away," Rounds said.

Current state law requires a setback of the greater of 500 feet or 1.1 times the height of the tower from the adjoining property line.

The proposal from House Republican leader Lee Qualm, of Platte, sought to change those to 1,500 feet or three times the tower height.

Qualm's legislation also would have added other requirements, such as a setback 12 times the tower height or 1.5 miles from a residence, business or public building, unless there was a written agreement.  

Supporter Greg Hubner, of Avon, said at least 16 counties in South Dakota don't have zoning, including Charles Mix where Qualm lives. "That is why we need something as a standard," Hubner said.

"Wind is a very strong force. They have a lot of money. They have a lot of lawyers," Hubner told the committee. He wrote a book, "Paradise Destroyed: The Destruction of Rural Living by the Wind Energy Scam."

Wind-farm noise was one reason cited by the bill's supporters.

Jerome Powers lives at rural Wagner in the footprint of the Beethoven wind farm. Powers said he began suffering migraine headaches and had difficulty sleeping since the farm started operating three years ago.

"The wind industry can survive with a mile-and-a-half setback," Powers said. Because Charles Mix County doesn't have zoning, the Legislature is the only protection, he said.

Julie Kaufman, who lives south of Delmont, said she began suffering worse health after the Beethoven project began running in May 2015. She said the nearest turbine is 2.1 miles from her house. Her husband, James, also testified for the legislation.

Representative Caleb Finck, a Tripp Republican, said the discussion needs to continue. He said a single setback wouldn't necessarily cover all instances.

Supporters ran into a buzzsaw of opponents.

Steve Kolbeck, principal manager for Xcel Energy in South Dakota, was the first witness to speak against the legislation. He is a past member of the state Public Utilities Commission that oversees permits for wind projects.

Xcel plans several wind farms in Codington, Grant and Deuel counties in northeastern South Dakota.

"Wind has been talked about in this (Capitol) building for nearly 20 years," Kolbeck said. "Other states are envious because we've landed these projects."

He said the legislation wouldn't encourage Xcel to build more projects in South Dakota.

Brenda Hanten, a Codington County Commission member who said she was speaking for herself, called for the bill's defeat. She said her county adopted wind regulations in the 2000s and called the bill "a legislative bypass."

Gary Jaeger, a Deuel County Commission member and president for the South Dakota Association of County Commissioners, said the organization has been opposed since 1997.

He said approximately 400 jobs at an Aberdeen plant that makes blades depend on the wind-turbine market.

"I don't begrudge any of the proponents on what they said. This is what they are feeling," Jaeger said.

He said township and county governments receive tax revenue from wind towers and that helps every resident.

"We have handled it in the past, and we will handle it in the future," Jaeger said.

Hubner said Jaeger was one of the people facing lawsuits in South Dakota over wind regulations.

Justin Smith, a lobbyist for the South Dakota Wind Energy Association, said local control is working. He gave the example of a half-mile setback required by the Lincoln County Commission that effectively,shut off wind development there.

Aaron Scheibe, representing Governor Kristi Noem, spoke against the legislation too. So did wind-companies lobbyists Brett Koenecke, Bill Van Camp and Drew Duncan.

"Let the counties decide what the setbacks should be," Van Camp said. "This is a county decision and it should continue to be that way."

Margo Northrup, a lobbyist for the South Dakota Towns and Townships, also opposed it.

Roger Solum of Watertown, a former legislator, said the bill would "destroy 10 or 15 years of work" and stop further wind development in South Dakota. He chaired the Legislature's wind-competitiveness task force in 2011.

Mark Winegar, representing the Sierra Club in South Dakota, said HB 1226 topped the list of legislation the group opposes this session.

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