(Ed. Note — This is Part I of a two-part story. Part II will appear in tomorrow’s paper)

The prairies and rolling hills of South Dakota will soon become dotted with wind turbines after the approval of eight major wind-energy projects that could bring 700 more turbines and an investment of $2.6 billion in the state by the end of 2020.

Two other projects now in the regulatory approval process would bring 188 more turbines and another $640 million in investments to the state, bringing the total of new turbines to 888 and the investment by energy companies to $3.26 billion.

The rapid expansion of wind energy will reach across the state, with the majority of new turbines targeted for the northeast corner, but with other projects planned for Hand and Hyde counties in the center of the state and a 45-turbine project now under construction near Newell in Butte County in the far northwest.

Just two years ago, despite being home to the third-most-active winds in the nation, South Dakota ranked No. 19 for wind-energy production among the 50 states, with 15 wind farms and a total of 584 turbines able to generate 1,014 megawatts of electricity.

New national ranking data is not yet available, but the approved and docketed projects would raise the total of wind farms to 25 and nearly triple the number of wind towers in the state. The electricity-production capacity would rise to more than 3,600 megawatts. Though it is variable, one megawatt of electricity can power about 1,000 homes; South Dakota ranks high in the nation for the number of homes, about 300,000, that are powered by wind energy.

Any new energy project is subject to extensive review and typically draws significant opposition. Most of the new wind farms approved for construction in South Dakota faced questions by neighbors about the impacts of 500-foot tall towers, noise and light flicker from rotors that operate in a 380-foot diameter, and the potential effects on property values and local birds and wildlife.

Those who support renewable energy and the economic benefits of new industry, however, are exuberant over the spate of new wind farms approved for construction. The eight project approvals all came between June 2018 and July 2019.

“For rural South Dakota, this is an awesome boom,” said Steven Wegman of the South Dakota Renewable Energy Association. “No one ever spent $300 million in Codington County in a construction season.”

Landowners, local governments and schools will all see significant financial benefits from the projects.

One wind farm approved in Clark County, the Crocker Wind Farm, will pay leaseholders $46 million over the next 20 years, according to documents filed by developer Geronimo Energy. That project, which includes up to 120 turbines and an expected investment of $600 million, will also create 10-20 full-time jobs, support a “community fund” of $1.6 million, and generate $36 million in tax revenues for the state, county, township and local schools in its first two decades of operation.

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