Proposed North Bend wind project splits landowners in central South Dakota

Capitol News Bureau

SD Public Utilities Commission holds public input meeting Wednesday night. Photo courtesy of Bob Mercer

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Several farmers from the area said they supported a wind project proposed in central South Dakota while several others spoke against it Wednesday night at a public input hearing.

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission must decide no later than March 23, 2022, whether to permit the North Bend wind farm that Engie North America wants in western Hyde and eastern Hughes counties.

Engie representative Casey Willis said the 71-turbine project would cost $265 million to $285 million. If all permits are in place, construction would start in April 2022 and commercial operation would occur in November 2022, he said.

A plan for taking down the project after its lifetime is being developed and there’s still no power-purchase agreement, Willis acknowledged.

The 200-megawatt project would connect to the grid through the Fort Thompson 230-kilovolt line owned by the Western Area Power Administration.

The Hyde County Commission granted a conditional use permit for the project Tuesday, according to Willis. He said the Hughes County Commission could hold its hearing in September.

Engie also has Triple H wind farm east of the proposed site.

Approximately 30 citizens attended the meeting at Capitol Lake Visitors Center in Pierre. It lasted about 75 minutes.

Farmer Nick Nemec of Holabird spoke in support. He has land within the project but doesn’t have a turbine proposed on it. He does have a turbine on his land in the Triple-H project.

Nemec’s opinions seemed to have been shaped by the Triple-H experience. He said the contractor took good care of the local roads during construction and improved many of them. He called the turbine service roads “a wonderful addition.”

While planting sunflowers, Nemec said, he noticed an antelope with twins in the shade of a turbine tower; as the shade moved, the mother and fawns did too.

Farmer Michael Bollweg from south of Harrold spoke against the project in general and asked the commission specifically to keep turbines away from the farm and the family’s Tumbleweed Lodge hunting operation.

Bollweg said the wind project would have “a crippling effect” on the lodge because some customers have already said they won’t return if there are turbines. He said there would be noise and shadow flicker from the rotating blades. “Why should we be exposed to any amount?”

According to Bollweg, the nearest turbine would be within 700 to 800 feet of his property. He said one quarter-section of the farm would have turbines on all four sides.

Tonja Jessen, who lives on a farm near Harrold, said the project was “a good opportunity for income” for the area. “The electricity has got to come from somewhere,” she said.

Jessen said she enjoys looking through the night sky at the red lights of the Triple H project and said the sound was similar to the hum of traffic on the highway. “We all look at things differently,” she said.

Harlan Smith, who farms west of Harrold on the Hughes County side, opposed the project. “The fact is, wind energy is not green energy,” he said, citing the landfills needed for the giant blades.

Smith spoke against the leases that landowners sign. He said they were like agreeing to sell calves or crops for 25 years to someone he didn’t know. “You’re giving up a lot of rights when you sign up for this deal.”

He read a few excerpts from “Paradise Destroyed: The Wind Energy Scam” by a South Dakota author and offered copies to the three commissioners. “It would be an eye opener for people to read,” he said.

Farmer Paul Knox of rural Highmore described the noise he hears at night from the turbines as “extremely obnoxious.” He said mule deer no longer come through his area, and the prairie chickens are gone too.

Knox had already written the commission about 600-year-old indigenous landmarks and artifacts such as tipi rings in the area.

“There’s nothing clean about wind energy,” he said.

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