The Hughes County Commission made the right decision on Monday when it put a six-month moratorium on wind-farm development.
“Green” energy sounds great in theory, and there’s no harm in exploring our options for generating electricity, but there are many questions remaining when it comes to wind power. And we’re not talking about just dollars and cents here.
One of the biggest costs to a wind farm is its footprint. Wind farms need to be spread over many square miles in order to be effective. The turbines themselves need at least 1,000 feet of stand off from roads and houses, too. That amounts to a pretty big footprint that generates a comparatively small amount of electricity.
While it’s true that the vast majority of the land within the wind farm can be used for growing crops or raising livestock, there still will be many acres taken out of production by access roads and the towers themselves.
It’s a pretty good bet that not all the neighboring landowner’s want to be surrounded by a bunch of giant wind turbines. Judging by how much opposition other recently proposed wind-farm projects have seen, it wouldn’t be surprising to see at least a few folks come out against the Hughes County project. In some places, wind farm plans have driven a wedge between communities. It’d be a shame if that happened here.
Connected to a wind farm’s footprint is its impact on the natural world. While wind farms don’t emit greenhouse gasses once they’ve been built, they do cause some harm to the environment. Most notable is their impact on birds. A study published in 2013 in the journal Biological Conservation estimated that between 140,000 and 328,000 birds are killed by wind turbines each year. Central South Dakota is a migration corridor for many bird species, some of which already are declining in number.
Then there’s the wind itself. Even in South Dakota, it’s pretty fickle. That’s a big reason why wind turbines generate only about 5 percent of U.S. electricity while accounting for about 8 percent of the country’s capacity to generate electricity.
The Hughes County Commission isn’t necessarily worried about these issues. It’s members want to make sure they’ve got a solid, workable set of ordinances on the books. Taking the time to make sure the county’s rules are up to snuff is the right idea. It’s not like South Dakota is going to get less windy anytime soon.