3/5/09 Z is for Zero regard for residents concerns: The Wind Farm Strong-Arm in New Ulm
RED ALERT: This week, Wisconsin State Senator, Jeff Plale, (D-South Milwaukee) will introduce a bill which could hand over all siting of wind turbines to the PSC.
The PSC approved the siting of industrial wind turbines just 1000 feet from homes in the wind farms of Fond du Lac County. Residents in those wind farms are now being forced to live with the disastrous results.
To get a glimpse of what the future could look like for Wisconsin residents if the PSC has control over wind turbine siting, we look north to New Ulm, Minnesota and the message the City of New Ulm’s Public Utility Commission is sending to the people there.
After you read this post please go to the phone and call your legislators and ask them not to support Senator Plale's turbine reform bill. Tell them the appointed officials of the PSC should not be in charge siting wind turbines. Tell them they need to review what what has happened in Fond du Lac County since the PSC allowed a turbines to be built 1000 feet from homes.
New Ulm PUC wind farm controversy continues
February 26, 2009
by Andrew Olsen
About 100 people showed up Monday, February 16 at the St. George Parish Center when the New Ulm Public Utilities Commission held a listening session to hear concerns of local property owners. This was the first public meeting held in Nicoillet County by the PUC about the controversial wind farm project.
The evening started with about 45 minutes of informative presentations about the project and another wind farm project.
Trimont area farmer Neal Von Ohlen presented information about his experience with wind turbines and addressed some concerns, including the flicker effect.
Von Ohlen stated that the flicker effect is present on his property only about one month of the year. He also pointed out that he has easily gotten used to the noise associated with the turbines and that he has seen no health side effects in his experience, no issues with radio or television reception, and no proof of increase or decrease in land values.
After Von Ohlen’s presentation, he took questions from the audience. It was difficult, however, for him to pinpoint his answers, as most questions inquired about New Ulm’s project, and not the one in which he is involved.
There seemed to be an aura of frustration as some had hoped their questions would be responded to at the meeting.
However, this was not the format the PUC chose to follow. PUC officials, instead, only listened and stated that they would respond to questions and concerns at a later time.
"Rather than it appearing that the PUC was trying to convert the skeptics, the PUC felt it was appropriate for area residents to have their say without having to engage in debate," New Ulm Utilities Planning and Development Engineer Patrick Wrase stated in an email to the Ledger after the meeting.
He went on, "The opponents of this project have painted themselves into a political corner and would ‘lose face’ if they accepted the logic of the PUC’s reasoned responses to their baseless claims. Thus no answer would have been sufficient to satisfy them and quell their fears.
They are simply beyond rational dialogue. For those with legitimate questions and concerns, they are entitled to reasoned and thoughtful responses after their concerns have been duly considered and studied. There are so many technical issues involved in a project like this that an ‘off-the-cuff’ response would risk misleading or misinforming, and the PUC has no desire to do that."
Area resident Dan Wendinger produced a timeline of how the project got to where it is today, and provided a letter that showed what project opponents called a clear threat of eminent domain. Some opponents believe that fear of losing land is the only reason why any of the three landowners in lease agreement with New Ulm signed those leases.
"They negotiated a lease rather than lose a portion of their property," Wendinger claimed.
Jeff Franta, an active opponent to the PUC’s wind farm project, which seeks to place three wind turbines in close proximity to his property, asked those present to "keep in mind that this is the very first public meeting held," and reminded them that a "project of this magnitude needs large public support to be successful." He also pointed out that none of the three landowners who have signed leases with New Ulm for use of their land were present at the meeting.
Other opponents also spoke at the meeting. Kim Schwab reiterated documented health effects that had been presented at an earlier Nicollet County Board meeting, and also voiced concern about the unwelcome presence of four-wheelers on her property.
Wrase assured the Ledger that access to properties under lease to the PUC for planning purposes was obtained only from public rights-of-way or via other property under lease to the PUC.
"The PUC requires all of its consultants and contractors to strictly respect all private property rights," Wrase wrote in an email to the Ledger. "The trespassing described by Mrs. Schwab is on property described as a township road according to Nicollet County records."
A consolation for opponents of the project might be an increase in property line setbacks for the wind turbines. The current setback in Nicollet County is 750 feet, but some residents would like to see that number doubled. Nancy Reinhart read a portion of a safety manual for wind turbines, which states to stay 1,300 feet away from the turbines.
The PUC hopes to have responses to concerns raised at the meeting ready and mailed to area residents within the coming weeks. For some opponents, though, answers may never come, as Wrase stated that there will be no response from the PUC to the presentations made by those he calls “the radicals."
"The PUC looks to the future of this project and will not engage in a debate about how things got to this point. When the PUC has had an opportunity to develop reasoned and factual responses to other questions that were legitimate, responses will be given," Wrase stated in his email.
NOTE FROM THE BPWI RESEARCH NERD: The photo below was taken in a PSC approved wind farm in Fond du Lac County, where the setback is 1000 feet from homes, or, if you'd like a 40 story wind turbine even closer, 440 feet.
Near the town of Byron, Fond du Lac County, Winter 2009 Photo by Gerry Meyer
Surrounding landowners say that wind farm is the right idea in the wrong place
by Ruth Klossner
While the City of New Ulm’s Public Utility Commission is moving forward with plans for the development of a wind farm a few miles southwest of Lafayette, the surrounding landowners are expressing their opposition to the project.
Both sides agree that wind energy is a good idea—but that’s as far as their agreement goes.
The New Ulm PUC has been looking at wind energy as a source of power for the past few years, starting with a feasibility study.
While area landowners were aware of that study, they didn’t know at first that it applied to them.
As early as the spring of 2007, eight landowners in Lafayette Township were approached about the possible sale of land for a potential wind farm. When they were contacted by phone, it became apparent that PUC representatives “knew everything about the land.”
After the initial phone calls, no further contact was made for a time and local landowners “thought the project died.”
That changed early this spring when three landowners were contacted again.
After due consideration, at least two of the three responded, through their lawyer, in late March, that they had no interest in any wind generation project on their property. They asked the City of New Ulm to look elsewhere.
Letters to landowners in mid-May indicated that the City of New Ulm intended to pursue the project, in spite of property owners’ objections.
The city indicated a desire to negotiate the purchase of land, but stated that other means would be used, if the landowners wouldn’t agree to the city’s demands.
With the threat of losing their land through eminent domain hanging over them, the three landowners agreed to negotiate and worked out lease agreements, rather than the purchase agreements that New Ulm wanted.
Long-term land and wind easement leases with three landowners—Brad and Diane Franta, Roger Klossner, and Sharon Hacker—were approved at the NU PUC meeting Tuesday, August 26.
According to the leases, two turbines could be placed on 60 acres leased from the Frantas, one on 40 acres leased from Klossner, and two on 137.03 acres from Hacker. The PUC also authorized an option to purchase an additional five acres from Hacker for the construction of a substation. The sites are in Sections 18, 19, and 20 of Lafayette Township North.
A request for a conditional use permit to erect that meteorological tower will be heard at the meeting of the Nicollet County Planning and Zoning Advisory Commission at 7:00 pm. Monday , September 15 in the County Board Room of the Nicollet County Government Center.
That will be the first time that a Nicollet County government board has had any input on the proposed wind farm. The matter is also expected to be on the Tuesday, September 23 agenda of the Nicollet County Board of Commissioners.
Surrounding landowners will attend both meetings to express the many concerns they have about the project.
In a Letter to the Editor published last week in the Ledger and other area newspapers, 12 landowners/taxpayers wrote,
“We are not opposed to wind energy and, in fact, think that wind energy is a top choice for electric power going green in the future. However, there are places much better suited than this area for wind turbines.”
They also noted, “We, the surrounding landowners, including the three landowners who have signed the leases with the New Ulm PUC, have opposed this project from the start.
The three landowners that have entered into a lease agreement with New Ulm PUC have done so only for fear of losing a large portion of their developed crop land due to the threat of eminent domain.”
The group has also presented a petition, signed by 77 landowners/producers, landowner/residents, and landowners to each member of the PUC, as well as to members of the Nicollet County Planning and Zoning Board and County Board of Commissioners.
Basically every name of every resident and/or owner within a mile or two of the proposed wind farm site is on the petition.
A total of 32 building sites are within a mile of a proposed tower. Six of the signers of the Letter to the Editor expounded on the concerns of the surrounding property owners last week.
The three landowners, who have signed leases with the PUC, are under a gag order and cannot speak about the process or the lease.
“Their hands are tied. They can’t say a word since they signed the lease. That holds throughout the entire process,” Dan Wendinger stated.
In turning to the group’s concerns, Wendinger noted, “The proposed wind farm area will encompass more than 30 building sites. No other wind farm around has that many building sites, or that many sites where the landowners actually farm the land. It’s their business. A lot of small businesses will be affected by this project.”
When Jeff Franta noted, “A wind farm is not five towers,” Sandie Altmann added, “It seems to be ‘a test.’”
Kim Reinhart commented, “They’ve never established whether they’ll expand, but we’ve heard other numbers.”
While the NU PUC has announced plans to put up turbines equating to five to seven megawatts at this time, the proposed sub-station is designed to handle 30 megawatts.
Group members pointed out that the development of a wind farm of any size has significant tax issues. According to officials in the wind industry, an average wind tower should generate $8,000 a year in taxes, or approximately $4,000 per megawatt.
With New Ulm talking five to seven megawatts, that’s $20,000 to $28,000 annually in taxes that would be lost, because municipalities do not pay taxes.
All tax money generated by wind towers, if privately owned, stays in the county. “Nicollet County gets nothing out of this, except perhaps a small per acre tax on the property that the turbines stand on,” Wendinger said.
Group members also questioned why the towers are proposed for Nicollet County, versus Brown County where New Ulm is located.According to the landowners, wind maps show that western Brown County has better wind than the area selected.
“Besides, there’s more prairie land there, and the farm sites are not as concentrated as here,” Jeff Franta said. “It’s likely that someone with grassland would welcome getting income from it.”
He went on, “We’re highly productive. We farm fenceline to fenceline on highly productive land.”
The group objected to New Ulm referring to the local acreage as “undeveloped land” in its negotiations.
“We call it ‘developed crop land.’ It’s developed in our eyes,” Franta said.
Placement of turbines on productive farm land could adversely affect the farming business, not only of the landowners on whose property they would be placed, but the neighbors as well.
Clete Goblirsch pointed to a number of agricultural concerns.
“Any time you take a big parcel and cut it up, you decrease efficiency. Putting these towers in would cause us to go from bigger to smaller parcels—while equipment is getting bigger. It would be inefficient for planting, spraying, harvesting, tilling. We don’t make just one pass. Farmers would have to drive around it seven times a year.”
The roads leading to each tower would break up the farm land even more. Equipment will have to be raised each time roads are crossed.
The proposed towers are spread out over a lot of acreage, another concern for landowners.
“They’re indiscriminately putting the towers here and there, rather than in a line like they are in most wind farms. The five towers are spread over three or four sections of land,” Goblirsch noted. “That’s not farmer friendly.”
Franta added, “They’re disrupting three landowners.”
The farms have been in family ownership for a long time—with at least one being a Century Farm.
“The Franta family was probably farming the land before New Ulm was even a city,” Dennis Franta commented.
The towers would also cause problems for the application of pesticides and herbicides.
“Aerial applicators can’t deal with multiple towers,” Goblirsch, who is a pilot as well as a farmer, noted.
“More aerial applications are being done every year—I see no indication of it being reduced. The test tower is even worse than the wind towers as pilots can’t see the guy wires.”
In a related matter, group members related that they have learned that many air ambulances won’t land in areas with dense towers, especially at night.
“They need a big area to maneuver. Where are they going to land if we need an air ambulance?” Goblirsch asked.
County and township roads are another concern. While the PUC has stated that it will restore the roads after construction is complete, area residents question who will fix the roads when heavy equipment has to be brought in to do turbine repair.
Another traffic concern is that the turbines would be a tourist attraction, putting many more vehicles on the rural roads, and interfering with machinery movement and causing safety problems.
Reinhart brought up another area of concern.
“There are a lot of health concerns. It affects everybody who lives there. People living in turbine areas have sleep problems, headaches, nausea, depression, and many other problems. The low-frequency noise causes insomnia.”
Franta added, “Our population is very close to where the towers would be. We’re very concerned about it."
Reinhart and fiance Scott Schwab would likely be within three blocks from a proposed tower.
“The flicker/shutter effect as the blades going by can cause equilibrium problems. The shutter effect is seen up to a mile or two away,” Reinhart noted.
“The noise has to be 50 decibels at night, but can be exceeded a certain percent of the time. Fifty-decibels is like a refrigerator or air conditioner running next to your bed. It’s not a steady sound, either. There’s a pulse to it.”
Another concern is that the blades can throw off ice during cold weather, and could cause injury.
“We live in the country for a reason,” Reinhart emphasized.
The local landowners emphasized that they are not against wind energy, but that turbines should be placed in a more suitable location.
“We are fully aware that New Ulm has several other options for acquiring wind energy as a power source for the city. We have consulted with several wind farm experts and they suggest that a project of this magnitude is at a very high risk of not being successful and could place a great financial burden on area tax payers,” the group noted in its petition.
“If this goes through, it’s precedent setting,” Franta said. “No city of this size has ever done this before. It’s usually done by a group.”
Altmann added, “We are for wind energy, just not in such a heavily populated area.”
“It’s the food versus fuel argument. There’s a place for wind turbines and a place for corn and beans. There is land available in Brown County that’s more suitable for turbines,” Goblirsch stated.
While distance may be argued as a deterrent to a western Brown County location, Goblirsch pointed to data supplied by former Secretary of Agriculture Jim Nichols, now manager of a wind turbine farm on the Buffalo Ridge.
While the industry commonly cites a two-percent loss in the electrical power grid, one percent of that is basically lost through transformers. Only one percent is lost is transfer of power up to 1,000 miles—so the loss from western Brown County to New Ulm would likely be no greater than from Lafayette Township.
This story ran September 11, 2008.
Here's the Update:
What New Ulm has to look forward to:
Photo: Farmhouse in one of the PSC approved industrial wind farms in Fond du Lac County, Winter 2009 Setback of 1000 feet.
New Ulm in 1870