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Ensure Green Energy Respects Rural Beauty

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You’ve built your dream home with a beautiful unobstructed view of the country landscape around it. Your family can be amazed by the majesty of the Northern Lights. It can see the twinkling stars of a constellation, the bright haze of the Milky Way galaxy with its billions of stars, and the comets of the Perseid meteor shower streaking across the night sky.
Approaching storms with dazzling lighting have an awesome majesty of their own.
Then it is all ruined.
Blinking lights from a cell tower or a dozen windmills now intrude. Massive powerlines trail their lights across your view. Fields of native grasses and wildflowers are replaced with solar arrays.
With increasing frequency, we are seeing windmill towers, 5G cell towers, and solar fields dot the rural landscape. Progress you may say. It happens for the greater good. But we must consider whether our counties can do more to mitigate the intrusion of these green energy producers.
Minnesota currently leads the U.S. by producing 33% of its electricity from wind and solar sources. That is 10% above the national average. It is imperative we produce more renewable energy in Minnesota and the nation to ensure future generations don’t suffer the severe consequences of a rapidly warming climate.
It is beyond denial today that our planet is getting hotter rapidly, and our consumption of fossil fuels is the cause.
“It’s official: 2023 was the planet’s warmest year on record, according to an analysis by scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information,” the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in January. “Along with the historic heat, Antarctic sea ice coverage dropped to a record low in 2023.
“The findings are astounding,” NOAA Chief Scientist Dr. Sarah Kapnick said. “Not only was 2023 the warmest year in NOAA’s 174-year climate record — it was the warmest by far. A warming planet means we need to be prepared for the impacts of climate change that are happening here and now, like extreme weather events that become both more frequent and severe.”
Just this last week more bad news for the climate was published.
“Atmospheric levels of planet-warming carbon dioxide aren’t just on their way to yet another record high this year — they’re rising faster than ever, according to the latest in a 66-year-long series of observations,” Scott Dance writes in an article for The Washington Post. The observations come from Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.
It could take 200 years for CO2 levels to drop back to a level where they were driving climate change even if emissions levels fell to zero now, he writes. This challenge is going to affect generations of our descendants with increasing climate disasters and political upheaval caused by parts of the world becoming uninhabitable. Climate refugees will stream into already crowded areas seeking water and food. We will deplete our aquifers even faster as crops demand more water as temperatures rise.
Biodiversity that sustains world ecosystems will collapse, threatening the world’s food supply.
“With Minnesota’s drive to reach 100% clean energy by 2040, the state is leading the nation in delivering the benefits of an equitable clean energy future for all—from reducing pollution and improving quality of life to creating jobs and economic prosperity for more Minnesotans,” Sarah Christiansen, Director of the McKnight Foundation’s Midwest Climate & Energy program, is quoted on the Clean Energy Economy MN website.
Rural quality of life must also be a consideration in the planning and siting of these green energy projects.
Minnesota’s Legislature has been considering ways in which it can reform permitting rules to speed the state’s path toward its 2040 goal of being 100% carbon free.
But we would be wary of how it would make permitting “faster and cheaper.” What will be the consequences of such actions on rural Minnesotans?
Young people are becoming more active in seeking action from legislative leaders on climate concerns. This past February, dozens of high school and college students met with state legislators. Calling themselves part of the Climate Generation, they want more education on “air quality, ecosystems, biodiversity and land and water in Earth and environmental science classes,” a story by the Associated Press’s Alexa St. John and Doug Glass earlier this month said.
Their voice will be stronger and more influential in elections in the coming years.
We know that metropolitan corporations see our concerns as a nuisance as they seek to build future revenues. Our job is to ensure we protect our natural resources and among them, our skies free of manmade eyesores.
An absentee landowner, even some local landowners, won’t consider the impact of blinking lights in the night sky, the noise of wind turbines, or blemishes on rural landscapes. They’ll take the revenue and have others suffer the environmental consequences.
Good neighbor provisions in county ordinances should see that if a landowner signs a contract for the placement of windmill or cell phone towers on their property, they be located near that landowner’s homestead, not placed at the edges next to a neighbor.
We must protect our county residents against the cost of decommissioning large green energy projects if their investors walk away.
We are going to see an increasing number of requests for large solar energy arrays across the rural landscape, along with not just one or two wind towers but dozens.
As corporations review local ordinances governing the placement of wind towers, solar fields, and cell phone towers, their attorneys will study them to inform their siting strategy. Ordinances that don’t spell out their obligations will see projects shaped to benefit corporations, not rural residents. We must ensure the impact on wildlife is taken into consideration.
Now is the time to amend local ordinances to protect rural residents and the natural beauty of rural Minnesota.


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