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Wind farm surge drawing vocal opposition in South Dakota

After years of lagging behind neighboring states, South Dakota is suddenly poised for dramatic growth in wind energy production.

That means hundreds more wind towers are headed to South Dakota in a frantic pace that could triple the size of the wind industry in the state over the next five years.

The wind farm explosion, akin to a “gold rush,” according to one state official, is being fueled by state tax breaks and a rush by energy companies to take advantage of a lucrative federal wind energy tax credit being phased out soon.

But more than anything, the growth in wind energy production is due to a nearly $450 million investment by energy companies to build two major power transmission lines that can carry the new electricity to established energy markets in North Dakota and Minnesota.

The wind farm growth will generate millions in new tax revenues for counties and the state and bring generous payments to rural property owners whose land sits in the path of South Dakota’s famed blustery winds.

But the expansion has come with growing pains. Opposition to wind turbines remains rigid and vocal, including disputes over two major wind farms now under consideration near Watertown and Clark. The debate over who gets the towers and the money, and whether the wind farms are right for South Dakota in the first place, has divided communities, estranged families and in some cases pitted neighbor against neighbor.

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