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Blowin’ In The Wind

September 1, 2016
by Dan Voigt , Emmetsburg News

Much has been written and talked about in regards to wind energy, wind turbines and regulations of late here in Palo Alto County. Unless you've completely ignored the issue, you know there is considerable discussion and some disagreement about wind turbines and whether or not Palo Alto County will join the growing ranks of counties that host these structures.

Over a year ago, Palo Alto County was mentioned as a possible location for a new wind turbine development, and work began on an update to the county's zoning ordinances to address wind energy construction. One of the biggest factors to be addressed in ordinances has been setback distances, or the distances that a wind generating structure, such as a turbine tower, can be erected from dwellings, buildings or roads.

A proposal for a setback requirement of a half-mile from any structure or roadway was suggested in the proposed ordinance, the same distance as is requested by the county's "Good Neighbor Policy" for the construction and operation of livestock confinement operations.

However, the proposed setback requirement of a half-mile is not a standard distance used by other localities in the state and the nation. That longer distance, 2,604 feet, is not looked on favorably by wind energy developers.

One developer reportedly commented that a half-mile setback requirement could be a deal-breaker if enacted locally.

Deal Breaker.

Such simple words, yet, they hold some very powerful ramifications.

Studies and projections have indicated that if the potential wind projects being targeted for Palo Alto County would result in an investment of nearly $700 million in the county, which would then translate into approximately $120 million in property tax payments per year for the wind generation projects. From that figure, the public schools in the county would share in an additional $2.4 million in funding - which could result in reduced property tax askings for landowners in several areas on their tax statements.

Add in the payments to landowners each year for wind generation equipment, and the added income from construction through payroll of workers and then the addition of anywhere from 20 to 30 or so full-time jobs for operators and maintenance personnel for the projects, paying those workers well over $50,000 a year in salaries, and the numbers add up quickly.

With that being said, there are concerns to be addressed, such as added traffic on rural roads during construction, potential effects on rural drainage systems, such as tile lines, concerns for farmers in regards to farming around structures such as towers and factors such as blade shadows and hazards to wildlife.

But perhaps the biggest obstacle to wind energy in the county at this point in time appears to be the one least spoken about - jealousy.

There are landowners who do not support such projects, and that is entirely their right. There are also residents in the county who will not support such a project because they would not get a direct payment out of a project - in other words, their neighbor gets a tower, but they don't. "Well, if I don't get one, I don't want my neighbor to have one either!"

Along this line, there are those who object because they feel wind turbines are unsightly and destroy the natural beauty of our state. Turbine towers may give a different look to the skyline, but in my humble opinion, there's something sort of soothing in watching the blades rotate in the breeze.

While everyone is entitled to an opinion and has the right to state their opinion, one thought needs to be kept in mind. As our population on this planet continues to grow, the demand for energy is not decreasing. The generation of electrical power has been targeted by environmentalists for many years.

Nuclear power has its drawbacks, due to the dangers of radiation contamination and disposal of radioactive products and high costs of development. Coal-fired electrical generation is all but being exterminated by governmental regulations, which are also limiting the creation of cleaner fuels for vehicles in the form of ethanol and cellulosic ethanol production.

Compromises have been made, and the future appears to be bright. The opportunity to keep Palo Alto County growing and viable in the future should be priority one for every resident - young and old alike.



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