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PUC Approves New Wind Farm in SE SD; Positive Blog Coverage Helps Wash Away Health Concerns

Prevailing Wind Park proposed site in red, spanning Dry Choteau Creek, Charles Mix/Bon Homme County border. From PWP application to PUC, map dated 2018.05.26.
Prevailing Wind Park proposed site in red, spanning Dry Choteau Creek, Charles Mix/Bon Homme County border. From PWP application to PUC, map dated 2018.05.26.

The Public Utilities Commission has approved Prevailing Wind Park LLC’s application to build a 61-turbine, 219.6-megawatt wind farm in Bon Homme, Charles Mix, and a little niche of Hutchinson counties. Meeting Tuesday in Pierre, the PUC expressed some reservation about turbines not being set back sufficiently far from residences but shrugged as it did at far more justified concerns about the Keystone and Keystone XL pipelines running right through unwilling landowners’ property.

Wind opponents solicited testimony from wind farm neighbors from other states who came all the way to South Dakota to talk smack about wind turbines (I would love to see who paid their gas money). Prevailing Wind brought doctors:

Interveners voiced concern over the wind farm’s potential impacts on their health and claimed Prevailing Wind Park did not meet the burden of proof to show otherwise. In previous hearings, interveners brought forward testimonies from residents who live near other wind farms throughout the Midwest who claimed wind farms were detrimental to their health and way of life.

Prevailing Wind brought in doctors to testify, who said there was no reason to believe the proposed energy facility would impair residents’ health. While he said he valued the testimonies from residents, Hanson said the expert witness testimonies from medical professionals had firmer legal standing [Sarah Mearhoff, “PUC Approves 50,000-Acre Wind Farm in Southeast SD,” Aberdeen American News, 2018.11.21].

The doctors are probably right—a new Canadian analysis agrees that some neighbors may find wind turbines annoying but that there’s no evidence of real health impacts:

The earlier Statistics Canada study found no direct link between residents’ distance from wind turbines and sleep disturbances (as measured by sleep assessments and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index), blood pressure, or stress (either self-reported or measured via hair cortisol). However, the more recent study showed that survey respondents closer to wind turbines reported lower ratings for their environmental quality of life. Barry and her co-authors note that their cross-sectional study cannot distinguish whether these respondents were dissatisfied before the wind turbines were installed.

“Wind turbines might have been placed in locations where residents were already concerned about their environmental quality of life,” said Sandra Sulsky, a researcher from Ramboll. “Also, as is the case with all surveys, the respondents who chose to participate may have viewpoints or experiences that differ from those who chose not to participate. Survey respondents may have participated precisely to express their dissatisfaction, while those who did not participate might not have concerns about the turbines” [American Institute of Physics, “Does Living Near Wind Turbines Negatively Impact Human Health?”, 2018.06.05]

I annoy plenty of people, but the PUC can’t kick me out of Aberdeen for that.

Studies claiming associations between wind turbines and health impacts are riddled with selection bias and information bias. It’s more likely that anti-wind activists make folks sick:

There is no reliable or consistent evidence that proximity to wind farms or wind farm noise directly causes health effects. That’s the finding of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) much-anticipated draft systematic review of the evidence on wind farms and human health, released yesterday.

…Some poor-quality studies, for example, include only people with complaints, failing to consider the many who are not upset by turbines. And anti-wind farm activists’ efforts to spread fear among communities may cause people who anticipate they will be adversely affected to worry themselves sick [Simon Chapman, “Study Finds No Evidence Wind Turbines Make You Sick—Again,” The Conversation, 2014.02.24].

Heck, we might be able to cure wind-turbine syndrome just by telling people good things about wind turbines:

Method: 60 participants were randomized to either positive or negative expectation groups and subsequently exposed to audible wind farm sound and infrasound. Prior to exposure, negative expectation participants watched a DVD incorporating TV footage about health effects said to be caused by infrasound produced by wind turbines. In contrast, positive expectation participants viewed a DVD that outlined the possible therapeutic effects of infrasound exposure. Results: During exposure to audible windfarm sound and infrasound, symptoms and mood were strongly influenced by the type of expectations. Negative expectation participants experienced a significant increase in symptoms and a significant deterioration in mood, while positive expectation participants reported a significant decrease in symptoms and a significant improvement in mood. Conclusion: The study demonstrates that expectations can influence symptom and mood reports in both positive and negative directions. The results suggest that if expectations about infrasound are framed in more neutral or benign ways, then it is likely reports of symptoms or negative effects could be nullified [abstract; Crichton, F., Dodd, G., Schmid, G., Gamble, G., Cundy, T., & Petrie, K. J. (2014). The power of positive and negative expectations to influence reported symptoms and mood during exposure to wind farm sound. Health Psychology, 33(12), 1588-1592].


  1. jerry 2018-11-22

    Those big beautiful wind chargers near White Lake are now in operation. What a majestic feat of engineering and can do spirit, to remind us that it is possible to live and harness with the wind that can be so devastating and yet so empowering. Thanks PUC! Let’s build more as a clean source of commerce to help offset the regime’s impact on our ag producers.

  2. mike from iowa 2018-11-22

    Check the mental health of these people two years after the turbines are up and running. In iowa a mass of residents voted against Steve the White Supremacist. It is as if their mental acuities improved immensely.

  3. Richard Schriever 2018-11-22

    I suspect that a great deal of the level of dissatisfaction with a great many things (including dissatisfaction with government -> smaller government advocates) has to do with comparing reality to pre-conditioning unrealistic expectations around those various things.

    In my line of professional works (Organizational Psychology) this whole notion is encapsulated in a little notion called “Expectancy Theory”. It essentially says that peoples’ satisfaction/dissatisfaction with about anything is mostly a result of their comparing actual outcomes/experiences with (fantasized – hoped for) expected outcomes/experiences. Seldom do actual outcomes/experiences match precisely with the pre-imagined. In Org Psych – this is usually applied to the idea of “job satisfaction” around employee retention. The solution for organization leaders is to be sure to set and promote realistic expectations. How does one do that? Via the use of real data – facts – not spin or “motivational” propaganda techniques.

    It can be expressed as “getting real”.

  4. Richard Schriever 2018-11-22

    There are of course other elements to expectancy theory especially around its use as a motivator, But, this experiential satisfaction element is a good example of how the setting of expectations influences satisfaction with the actual outcomes. Another subtlety to be attended to here is the consideration of the extent to which subjects will behave in a way to please the experimenter, or conditions set by the experimenter. At some level – the subjects perceive that they are “expected” to reflect the experience they are being to conditioned to as a way to please the experimenters.

    This is a subtlety that is also present in a sometimes undiscussed way in the classic “Hawthorne Effect” in which subjects perform tasks better in response to simply being paid attention to by experimenters vs. ignored. The Hawthorne effect posits that people will perform tasks at an equally higher level whether experimenters treat them favorably OR disfavorably. Why? There behavior/performance is really a response to the simple act of being paid attention to. It is a “reward” to the experimenter for THEIR behavior.

    IMO – this is also a plausible explanation to the question in another thread of discussion here “How can Trump supporters continue to support him despite his atrocious treatment of them?” Answer: – Hawthorne effect”; he simply talks about them, pays attention to them. That’s all they really want – they don’t really care if the actual treatment is positive or negative. They are simply not being ignored.

  5. Francis Schaffer 2018-11-22

    So the PUC believes in scientific research and testimony from experts? Or is it only those who prove their own bias and beliefs?

  6. cibvet 2018-11-22

    Well said, Mr. Schriever.

  7. jerry 2018-11-22

    Whatever the case may be, the PUC deserves some applause for allowing this needed source of energy to be built.

    Regarding the Hawthorne Effect: A parakeet needs to have a mirror in it’s cage to give it attention and to provide someone to relate to. I would strongly suggest to trump supporters that what they really need is a mirror to talk to and to expect what they want to hear submitted back to them in real time. Bonus round, another white nationalistic racist person relating back! The other similarity with parakeet’s and trumper’s is that both just crap on the newspapers below them without care.

  8. Donald Pay 2018-11-22

    That’s pretty large area. With 61 turbines, would that be less than 1 per square mile for this project? There should be adequate setbacks, but I don’t see why there should be much negative impact from this project. Health impacts are something to be concerned about, but largely speculative at this point. I wouldn’t automatically pooh-pooh them, even though I am a big supporter of wind development.

  9. jerry 2018-11-22

    Of course Mr. Pay, no automatic pooh-poohing of anything. Personally, when I think of a section of land (one square mile) I think of that size while standing in the middle of it. Not to big when you are trying to sell it, but huge when you are trying to buy it.

    A mere hundred years ago, a quarter of that was adequate to make a living on.

  10. mike from iowa 2018-11-22 ( I shortened the Des Moines Register’s url from189 characters to 28) You are welcome.

    Madison county iowa, where the covered bridges are, is fighting turbines they claim are 490 feet tall. Residents claim noise and flickering from shadows as the turbines spin cause problems for some people. I agree. The flickering is similar to a str0obe light and it bothers the heck out of my eyes, but only at certain times of the year.

    Obrien Co, iowa, where I am, has no serviceable debt and 318 turbines. The supervisor, a wingnut I voted for, says the taxes generated by turbines will go for property tax relief.

  11. Debbo 2018-11-22

    This is only marginally related, but I’m going to leave it here anyway. The link is to an article in Pacific Standard about better ways to lure businesses than the Amazon HQ2 scam or Snot Wanker buying jobs from FoxCon in Wisconsin.

  12. Debbo 2018-11-22

    I was visiting a friend whose farm is surrounded by wind turbines, the nearest being about 1/4 mile away. That’s the closest I’ve ever been to them. It was a fairly calm evening and I became aware of a rhythmic, low whooshing sound. It was the turbine blades. I found it to be a soothing sound, reminded me of the ocean on a beach. Nice.

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-11-23

    Funny that Mark Mickelson is willing to push CAFOs as rural South Dakota’s only route to economic development yet mostly ignores wind power. CAFO externalities seem much more annoying that wind turbine whooshing. Why doesn’t anyone hear those turbines and say, “Ah, that’s the sound of money!”?

  14. Robert McTaggart 2018-11-23

    The property taxes may stay local, but how much of the economic activity powered by this wind farm stays in the state?

    And when that economic activity inevitably occurs when the wind is not generating enough electricity, the somewhere else must consume natural gas or coal to make up the difference.

    Apparently, it is more important to feel good about not emitting carbon locally than configuring everything in an holistic manner so that the total carbon for the planet goes down and the amount of waste is minimized.

    I am also waiting for the announcement of a new program to recycle wind turbine blades and other infrastructure..perhaps for a secondary use instead of a new wind turbine. Did I miss that news release Cory? Wouldn’t that be more sustainable?

  15. Richard Schriever 2018-11-23

    McTaggart. The stands/towers and the blades of those turbines are manufactured in SD. The company that typically builds the access roads is a SD business (I and several other South Dakotans work for it). Workers, while they are in state working – spend significant amounts on food lodging, fuels, vehicle and equipment repairs, work supplies and so on. After the turbines are built, there will be 24/7 monitoring personnel as well as service personnel located locally. Not so different to how the fossil fuels exploration and development industry works in those regards.

  16. Robert McTaggart 2018-11-23

    Terrific! I agree that looks a lot like oil and gas development in terms of its construction and impact and operations/maintenance.

    But how much of the electricity from the wind farm over the next 20-30 years will be consumed by industries or households within South Dakota? I thought we were already meeting our demand with coal, hydro, and wind…so we’d have to send the excess somewhere because we cannot store it. If the energy goes elsewhere, so does the related economic activity and other sales taxes.

  17. Richard Schriever 2018-11-24

    McTaggart – just like we have changed from a petroleum import dependent country to a producer of surplus (are we OPEC too now?) electricity can be an exportable “commodity”. On my last visit to Ecuador my host was proud to show me the new Chinese funded hydro-electric facilities and the HUGE (much bigger to anything we have in this country) new transmission towers for EXPORTING Ecuador’s excess hydro power to Colombia, Brazil, Peru and points South. Already being a petroleum exporting country – Ecuador has added electricity to their mix of commodities.

  18. Robert McTaggart 2018-11-24

    Schriever – Yes, there is something to be said for exporting the energy to locations that cannot provide their own energy, or cannot fund said generation.

    However, I don’t think wind energy generation is the ONLY business that can grow in South Dakota. Are we not losing out on economic impact if new or existing industries/companies in South Dakota do not grow to use the excess energy that we are generating? Or are we dedicating this energy for use elsewhere from the get-go?

  19. Robert McTaggart 2018-11-24

    South Dakota may indeed generate a lot of energy in the future for the northern plains region…primarily because the other states may not be willing to approve and site such facilities.

    I’m just saying increase the economic impact and minimize the waste.

    One set of industries that come to mind would be the supply chains to support the future energy generation which could occur in South Dakota.

  20. mike from iowa 2018-11-24

    Doc, Nat Geo says as long as the sun shines the wind will blow. I got news for them, from about 30 years of exclusive night time fishing, the wind can and does blow when the sun sets. I noticed during near white out blizzard conditions, the wind can howl without the sun. Matter of fact it seems the wind never stops during icy cold weather.

    But around here, it seems Mid-America gives most of the turbines Sundays off. I know the wind blows around here on Sundays. I’d think people would be especially grateful to receive energy on a given Sunday.

  21. Robert McTaggart 2018-11-24

    That’s just it…the wind blows at night when the demand drops. Now if you can shift some use to when the wind blows, then you get to use more of the energy immediately and locally.

  22. Robert McTaggart 2018-11-24

    Otherwise, adding more wind energy to the grid is like adding more butter to a cake. Yes you need butter for the recipe, but a cake with too much butter does not work out too well.

    If you prepared to make enough cakes for the butter you provide, then there is a better outcome (or a butter outcome! Ha!).

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