Hearings on wind farm packed; hundreds turn out to hear merits debated
By Lyn Jerde
FRIESLAND - Walter Wiersma considered introducing a photo of his children - 5-year-old Spencer and 3-year-old Rianna - into the written record of Wednesday's Public Service Commission of Wisconsin hearing to illustrate his opposition to electricity-generating wind turbines in northeast Columbia County.
Wiersma, of Friesland, was one of many people at the standing-room-only hearings who said worries about the health effects, safety and noise from wind turbines, in a 17,300-acre area in the towns of Scott and Randolph, should lead the commission to reject the We Energies proposal for Glacier Hills Wind Park.
"I'm for green energy," he said, "but I don't want it to hurt my family and friends."
The two hearing sessions, one at 3 p.m. and one at 7 p.m., were moved from the Randolph Town Hall to the Friesland Village Hall next door, in an effort to accommodate the crowds that showed up at both sessions.
All 50 chairs in the village board's meeting room were filled, and attendees spilled into the back of the room, and even into the hall outside.
At the first session, which lasted about an hour and 15 minutes, testimony was fairly divided among proponents and opponents of the wind project, which is expected to generate 207 megawatts of energy (enough to power about 45,000 homes) from 90 turbines, built on about 240 parcels of leased farmland.
Cliff Krentz of the town of Randolph said economics - namely, jobs for builders such as himself - is the strongest argument in favor of the project.
"Glacier Hills Wind Park can do a lot of good for a lot of people in this area," he said.
Several other witnesses, representing construction companies and unions representing workers in the construction business, offered similar testimony.
But at the second session, which lasted about two hours, several of those who testified said they lived near Blue Sky Green Fields, an 88-turbine We Energies wind farm that began operating last year in Fond du Lac County, in the towns of Marshfield and Calumet.
James Mueller of the town of Marshfield said the noise from the turbines is worst in winter, when there are no crops in the field to muffle it.
"It roars above my house like a jet," he said.
James Vollmer, who also lives near Blue Sky Green Fields, said he had to stop raising birds because the noise from the turbines stressed them so much, they stopped laying eggs, they molted in the winter and some of them died.
"Just like anyone else," he said, "if birds can't sleep, they get health problems."
Several other witnesses who live near Blue Sky Green Fields testified about problems with TV and radio reception, a strobe effect from the turbine blades called shadow flicker, and people who are susceptible to motion sickness experiencing queasiness from the turning turbines.
But Art Ondrejkas. who lives in the town of Calumet in Fond du Lac County, said he works for a company that is contracted to service the turbines there - and he has no problems living near them.
"I have a family there," he said, "and if I thought that something would happen to my family because of the wind turbines, I'd be out of there in a minute."
Several residents of the towns of Scott and Randolph said they've tried to sell their homes since hearing of plans for the wind farm, but have had few or no offers because of the possibility of the turbines being built.
Nancy Bump of the town of Scott said she has not leased any of her land for the turbines, but four of them are planned for near her home - the nearest one a little less than 1,200 feet away.
"We will be subjected to sleepless nights and shadow flicker from all four points of the compass," she said.
Carl Vander Galien, Friesland village president, read into the record a village resolution in opposition to the project. If the turbines are built, the resolution asks that We Energies pay the village yearly to compensate for the drop in property values the village is already experiencing just from the anticipation of the project.
"Personally," he said, "I don't see why this project is being built here, because of the low amount of wind."
Several attendees also submitted only written testimony, which was not read aloud to the group.
Administrative Law Judge Michael Newmark, who presided at the hearings, said all testimony, oral and written, is taken under oath. All testimony, except any that might be removed later due to objections from attorneys, will be compiled for the three-member Public Service Commission's consideration when it decides, probably sometime in January, whether to approve, deny or approve with modifications the Glacier Hills Wind Park project.
If the commission approves the project, construction will likely start next summer, and the turbines should be operational sometime in 2011.
Lyn Jerde/Daily Register
James Ebert of Friesland, left, expresses adamant opposition to the proposed Glacier Hills Wind Park Wednesday, as Administrative Law Judge Michaal Newmark listens, during a Public Service Commission of Wisconsin hearing at the Friesland Village Hall. Sworn testimony from the hearing will be given to the three-member Public Service Commission, which will decide, probably in January, whether to approve, modify or deny approval to the proposed We Energies wind energy complex in northeast Columbia County.
Lyn Jerde/Daily Register
Every chair was filled, and people stood in the back of the room and even in the hallway, for a Public Service Commission of Wisconsin public hearing on a proposed wind energy complex in the towns of Scott and Randolph. The hearing, originally scheduled for the Randolph Town Hall, was moved to the Friesland Village Hall next door to allow more seating space. At least 100 people attending each of the two hearing sessions Wednesday.