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Published May 07, 2009, 04:53 PM

New energy economics: Unintended effects of wind energy on aerial spraying

FARGO - The development of a wind energy farm provides numerous economic and environmental benefits to individuals and surrounding communities.

By: Cole Gustafson,

FARGO - The development of a wind energy farm provides numerous economic and environmental benefits to individuals and surrounding communities.

Likewise, individuals can benefit from construction of a single tower on their property. Less apparent are the negative consequences of these projects, especially when they constrain a neighbor’s opportunities.

The North Dakota Agricultural Aviation Association has posted thoughtful suggestions on this matter on my wind discussion forum at They begin by summarizing the importance of the aviation industry to the state’s crop production. In 2008, there were 145 aerial applicator companies flying 242 aircraft (15 percent of the registered aircraft in the state) that protected almost 5 million acres of land.

A study conducted by the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission in 2004 showed that the aerial spray industry in North Dakota contributes 850 jobs and $82 million annually to the state’s economy.

The aviation industry is concerned that wind energy growth will endanger pilots and restrict the opportunities a neighbor may have for any aerial chemical application. If one neighbor erects a wind tower that resides too close to a neighbor’s field, the second neighbor may loose the opportunity to spray his or her crops. Even though the second neighbor may never have aerial sprayed in the past, he or she is impacted economically because of the lost opportunity to do so in the future.

At certain stages of growth, many crops, such as corn and sunflowers, can be treated only by an aerial application. Other crops, such as potatoes, that need multiple applications require aerial applications to prevent soil compaction.

Having only the ability to do ground applications may cause increased disease pressure and decreased yield.

The aviation association has developed several guidelines and posted them to the wind discussion forum. Most important is to maintain at least 2,000 feet between a new tower and fields that have the potential for aerial spraying, either your own or a neighbor’s. This recommended distance increases to a mile if you are close to an airport or runway. If more than one tower exists in the region, the association suggests spacing them apart so pilots have ample room to maneuver.

Linear placement instead of random makes flying easier and provides fewer structures for the pilot to remember. Finally, guy wires or supports should be clearly marked and visible.

Meteorological towers pose a special threat. They usually are quite tall, slim and difficult to see. To improve visibility, they should be painted or lighted brightly.

The association also is concerned with the construction of new transmission lines. The association’s first preference would be to bury the cables, but if that is not possible, placing transmission lines near roads and section lines is helpful.

When considering placing a wind tower, landowners are encouraged to discuss their decision with neighbors to avoid future conflicts. Many times, small adjustments now can mitigate larger concerns later. The constructive suggestions put forth by the aviation industry are a positive development for the wind industry.

Gustafson is a biofuels economist with the NDSU Extension Service