4/24/09 Dear Wisconsin State Journal Editorial Page Editor: What happened to your good old fashioned journalist's curiousity?
News of the day: Reports of wind farm health problems growing
"More people are coming forward saying they're experiencing sleep problems, headaches, and heart palpitations caused by living near windmills."
Ontario physician Dr. Robert McMurtry told a news conference in Toronto Wednesday that while wind energy may offer a cleaner, more efficient way to generate electricity, those who live near the giant turbines are suffering through serious health problems.
TODAY'S SPECIAL FEATURE:
Dear Wisconsin State Journal Editorial Page Editor: What Happened to your good old fashioned journalist's curiousity?
On March 20 the Wisconsin State Journal ran an editoral in support of a bill which will give wind turbine siting control for the entire state to the PSC. [To read the Wisconsin State Journal editorial which ran on March 20, 2009, click here.] The editorial also featured this editorial cartoon:
For residents of Wisconsin wind farms who are having trouble living with the noise and shadow flicker caused by 400 foot tall wind turbines sited too close to homes, the cartoon felt more like this:
Better Plan, Wisconsin decided to try to find out what the Wisconsin State Journal's support of the wind turbine siting reform bill was based on.
We wondered if the author of this editorial had spoken to residents of the wind farms in Fond du Lac and Dodge counties who have complaints of turbine noise, shadow flicker and homes that will not sell. [scroll down to the end of this post to find out more about about the turbine siting reform bill]
What follows is an interchange between Better Plan and Scott Milfred who is the Editorial page editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.
To his credit, Mr. Milfred not only was willing to correspond with us, but also willing to allow us to share his part of the interchange. He also was gracious to us even when we spelled his name wrong. For this we thank him.
March 23, 2009
For the residents of the wind farms in Fond du Lac and Dodge County who are now suffering from turbine noise and shadow flicker problems, whose kids can’t sleep at night, and whose homes can find no buyers, the cartoon you featured of the man screaming the word “NIMBY” added to their hopelessness of ever having their story told.
Personally, that cartoon made me wonder why the Wisconsin State Journal is either ignoring this story or purposefully suppressing it. As journalists, you have an obligation to present the whole story. Instead, you consistently brush off the other side of the story off with the word “NIMBY”.
Even the evening news in Milwaukee at least took the issue seriously enough to send a reporter. Would you like to see what he found?
Here’s the report:
I’m a writer and a cartoonist and I’ve been working in print media all of my life. I’ve never had this experience with a paper before. Your absolute unwillingness to investigate the problems associated with putting turbines too close to homes and too close to sensitive wildlife areas is unlike any journalistic practice I know of. What on earth is behind it?
I’ve done work for NPR, the New York Times, The LA Times, Newsweek, Esquire, Salon.com and many other national and local publications. I tell you this in the hopes that you may pause and at least momentarily regard me as a colleague, before you write me off as yet another NIMBY.
As a colleague, I’m telling you there is a BIG Wisconsin story here. There are big problems. People are in misery. Why won’t you cover this story?
FROM SCOTT MILFRED:
Thanks for the feedback.
I'll forward your suggestion for an investigative news article on the noise and shadow flicker to our news desk.
Here on the Opinion page, we run editorial cartoons every day that are exaggerated and make a strong, one-sided point. That's the genre. And then we allow readers to respond with letter to the editor if they disagree. Feel free to submit 200 or fewer words with your own opinion to email@example.com. You must include your address and phone number for verification.
As for our editorial board, we are convinced that the minor nuisance created by turbines in noise and flicker is more than offset by the positive benefits of the clean energy.
Members of our editorial board -- including myself -- have visited wind farms. And we have read a lot of the same studies you have.
The flicker issue, in our opinion, is not a big deal.
It lasts for very short periods of time while the sun passes through the area of the turbine.
I also have visited wind farms and listened to the turbines from varying distances. I've never heard a noise I would consider loud. It's always been subtle.
I sure on specific days under specific conditions, it can become louder. But that's true with a lot of noise around a lot of people's homes, whether it's the neighbors muffler, stereo, party or the the four-lane highway a couple blocks from my home.
Moreover, the state legislation we have endorsed as an editorial board takes into account the need for windmills to be set back from homes.
You are more than welcome to disagree. And if you read our Opinion pages, you know that we've run several letters in recent weeks in opposition to wind power.
editorial page editor
Wisconsin State Journal
Very kind of you to respond and make clear that your opinion is based upon some visits to wind farms (my guess is during the day, probably in the summer) some studies you’ve read and your unswerving faith in what wind developers and lobbyists have told you.
Am I correct to say you are so certain you are right about this issue that you have no need to look into it?
No need to speak to people who actually live in Wisconsin wind farms, particularly the ones who are experiencing the misery you’ve termed just a ‘minor nuisance,’ --though you’ve never spoken to any of them or investigated their stories at all?
Do you believe they are lying or exaggerating about what is happening to them?
It seems you are saying whatever trouble they are living with is somehow worth it to you, although you not only have no idea of what that trouble is, and you don’t actually believe it exists.
With your permission, I’d very much like to share your response with families in the Fond du Lac wind farms who have contacted me because their kids can’t sleep at night, and for whom noise and shadow flicker is rather more than, as you put it “not a big deal”.
I’ve been working hard to help them get their stories told.
It’s helpful to know that the editorial board of the Wisconsin State Journal has no interest at all in their situation.
The legislation you support will give the PSC siting authority. Wisconsin families are having a hard time living with problems caused by PSC approved setbacks. Right now. This minute.
And I’m kind of floored by your complete lack of curiosity about this. Lack of curiosity is a common trait for a bigot, but an unusual trait for a journalist.
Kindly let me know if I have your permission to share your response with wind farm residents in Fond du Lac and Dodge Counties.
Thanks for the follow-up. I have spoken to many people who object to wind farms. And my main writer on this issue has met with experts and read reports on the impact of turbines.
Our editorial board feels strongly that the legislation setting the turbines back 1,000 feet is reasonable.
If you disagree, why don't you send us a letter to the editor of 200 words? That's what others who disagree with our view on wind power have been doing, and we've been running several of them.
Suggesting we are bigots because we disagree with you on the merits and problems with wind power strikes me as over the top.
Do you live next to a turbine in Footville? Next time I'm driving past, perhaps I'll stop by. From the videos I've watched online and the people I've spoken to in person and over the phone -- and from the advice of our main writer/researcher on our editorial board on this issue, and from my own visits to wind farms -- I don't believe the noise and flicker issues are as bad as people say.
I'm sorry we don't agree on that. Perhaps, living next to a four-lane highway and train tracks, I'm more tolerant of noise.
One final point: I am in charge of the Opinion pages at the newspaper. I do not control the news coverage.
I have forwarded your suggestion for more coverage to our news desk, should they care to pursue the story on their own. I know they have written about wind farms in our readership area in the past.
The Fox Valley is not in our readership area, so we'd be less likely to drive up there. But perhaps the Associated Press would. I'm sure the AP has done stories on this in the past. And if they do more, we'll probably run them.
editorial page editor
Wisconsin State Journal
I used the term bigot because a person who is intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices and uses pejorative terms (like “NIMBY”) for those who disagree, and who is absolutely unwilling to consider another side to the story is a bigot, according to most dictionaries.
When I was new to this issue, I felt quite strongly that wind farms were a good thing, an important and necessary thing. Without doing any research, I would have supported the PSC’s setbacks, even stubbornly, because it “just felt right” to me.
However, once I began to seriously research the issue of setbacks I kept running across evidence that ran counter to my hard-core environmental hopes and beliefs.
Naturally I didn’t want any of to be true, but, as they say in court, I had to go where the evidence was taking me.
The most convincing evidence of all was speaking to the very people who are having trouble living in the wind farms up north, and hearing the noise and experiencing the shadow flicker for myself.
Had you done the same, I don’t believe you would continue to say what is happening to them is ‘no big deal’ and ‘minor nuisance’. But that’s the problem. You haven’t spoken to them, you haven’t visited with them, and you are so convinced you are right about this, you never will.
It was research, investigation, and actually speaking to residents living with the PSC’s setbacks that made me conclude the 1000 foot setback is not just inadequate, it’s dangerous. In Europe, they wouldn’t dream of siting a turbine that close to a home.
The issue here is setbacks from homes and sensitive wildlife habitat, not the merits of wind power. But once I began questioning that setback, I was immediately labeled as anti-wind and a NIMBY.
I know the WSJ editorial board strongly believes the 1000 foot setback is adequate, but I’m curious to know if you can tell me what this belief is based on. Any bit of scientific or medical data?
There are plenty of such documents which support setbacks that are much greater. Can you point me to any data in support of your belief?
The Town of Union had to file a Freedom of Information request with the PSC to find out the source of that setback.
Are you at all interested in what they found out?
Since you support the legislation, wouldn’t you at least like to know where the PSC got those numbers?
I can tell you, if you are curious.
One of the largest turbine manufacturers in the world, VESTAS, instructs its workers and operators to stay at least 1300 feet from an active turbine unless necessary, and to stay facing the front of it. [Vestas workers and operators manual, page 8, I’m happy to send it to you] And these are the people with hard hats on.
So if VESTAS wants their workers to stay at least 1300 feet back, where did the 1000 foot setback come from?
I’m glad to know your main writer has met with experts and read reports on the impact of turbines.
But are you saying your main writer on this issue has not spoken with actual wind farm residents? Especially the ones who are having trouble living with the PSC’s setbacks?
There are plenty of them.
As a writer, that’s an important gap I would try to fill before I ever felt comfortable recommending legislation that would allow the same thing to happen to elsewhere.
I’m so curious as to why you are not curious about any of this.
Please know that even though we disagree I greatly appreciate your response.
Do I have your permission to share these emails with residents of the wind farms in Fond du Lac and Dodge Counties?
P.S. Just so you can see the other sorts of things the PSC’s siting guidelines helped make possible, take a look at the attached contract for residents of the Forward Invenergy wind farm in Fond du Lac county.
This is what residents have to sign to just to get their TV reception restored to what it was before the wind farm was built.
One of the conditions of this contract is to agree to never “disparage Forward or the project to any third party”, another is a ‘confidentiality agreement” or gag order.
Would you sign it? Take a look at it. For some reason I like reading contracts and this is one of the many I’ve seen from wind developers. I have more if you’re curious. But again, that’s the central question. Are you?
RESPONSE FROM SCOTT MILFRED: 3/30/09
The reason for the 1,000 foot setback is so that noise and any flicker are minimized. If you feel the setback should be longer, why don't you write us a 200-word letter to the editor arguing that point. If you live by a windmill, you could give your experienced take.
Capturing shadow flicker and noise problems is what wind developers and lobbyists say about the 1000 foot setback. But what exactly is it based on? And why isn’t it working?
Don’t you have any curiosity at all about the results of the Town of Union’s Freedom of Information request to the PSC about the source of setback you are so confidently endorsing?
Yes or no?
And may I have your permission to share these emails with residents who are having such trouble living with PSC setbacks in Fond du Lac?
Yes or no?
It would be helpful for them to know why the WSJ editorial staff is supporting the very setbacks that are making life so miserable for so many.
Actually, I’m still not sure what your belief in the 1000 foot setback is based on.
Can you tell me? Seriously, can you give me anything to go on?
Thanks for not just brushing this off. That really does mean something.
[Follow up email from me to Mr. Milfred]
This report came out last summer from the Congressional Research Service. It’s one of hundreds of credible documents that support a greater setback than 1000 feet.
American taxpayers spend nearly $100 million a year to fund the Congressional Research Service, a "think tank" that provides reports to members of Congress on a variety of topics relevant to current national concerns to aid our legislators in responsible decision making.
They hardly qualify as NIMBYS. But if I say the same thing, that’s what the WSJ calls me. Why? Based on what?
Wind Power in the United States: Technology, Economic, and Policy Issues
CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE
Report prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
June 20, 2008
All wind turbines produce mechanical and aerodynamic noise. Noise is thus a siting criterion for regulatory purposes.
Early wind turbine models were often loud, especially downwind versions (blades behind the generator). Newer models are designed to minimize noise.
Like visual aesthetics, wind turbine noise is often a matter of individual preferences and tolerances. For residences over 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) from a wind turbine, noise is generally not an issue.
Shadow flicker, also know as shadow casting or blinking, is defined as alternating changes in light intensity caused by the moving blades casting shadows on the ground or objects.
No flicker shadow will be cast when the sun is obscured by clouds or when the turbine is not rotating. This phenomenon can be annoying for residents who live very close to turbines.
Computer simulations can help project developers position turbines so that flicker does not interfere with nearby residences. Shadow flicker generally does not affect residences located 10 rotor diameters or more (about 0.5 miles) from the turbine, except possibly early in the morning or late in the evening when shadows are long.
Jeffrey Logan and Stan Mark Kaplan
Specialists in Energy Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
RESPONSE FROM SCOTT MILFRED
My e-mails are your e-mails. Do with them as you please. Attach them to a dart board if you like. ;-)
If I'm not curious because I have not made opposition to wind power my life's mission, I plead guilty.
My specialty is actually state and local politics. And here on the Opinion page we write about many, many issues every week.
I'll say it once more: If you don't agree with us, so what? Write in your own 200-word opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org. You still haven't, have you?
If you don't think we have researched the issue despite many meetings, phone calls, reports and even site visits, well, you are entitled to offer your more informed and expert thoughts. That's why we feature such a diversity of views on our Opinion page each day -- many of which oppose our own views.
You still haven't answered my question, though: Do you live by a wind turbine? If not, why are you so concerned.
And is a short period of flicker a day really that big of a deal? I don't think so.
Call me cruel and unusual. But as I said, I live next to a four-lane highway and train tracks and drive home at dust with the sun flickering behind the trees on my car.
I think the potential of clean wind energy is with some nuisance -- especially if its 1,000 feet away.
Sorry we disagree.
Dear Mr. Milfred,
I’m sorry that in my frustration I used a word, ‘bigot’, which I now realize probably felt as unfair and off the mark to you as the word NIMBY does to me, and I’m writing to apologize for that.
So many of us are frustrated by the lack of understanding of how serious this problem is for people living in the wind farms up north, and I’m certainly one of them. My frustration got the better of me and I apologize.
I’m hoping you will at least be willing to look at a March 3, 2009 press release [click here] from the staff of Northern Maine’s Medical Center. It followed a similar press release from the Medical staff of Rumford Community Hospital in Maine a week or so earlier. No doubt developers and lobbyists will continue to blow this off as NIMBYISM, but the medical community is taking this seriously.
Secondly, I’m hoping you’ll consider findings of a doctor on staff at Northern Maine’s Medical Center who interviewed people living in the Mars Hill wind farm— just released this week. [Click here] Dr. Nissenbaums findings are identical to what I’m hearing from people who have contacted me from the Dodge and Fond du Lac areas.
No one believes this problem exists, few wish to look into it, and those who do— well...
I’m positive the doctors who issued these press releases and did face to face interviews with residents of wind farms would be glad to speak to you, on record, and I’d be happy to help make that connection.
Again, for me, the issue is siting, not the merits of wind power.
You really were very good to respond. I’m sorry I was so rude.
Hello Mr. Milfred,
During our lively email interchange you mentioned the Associated Press, saying that should they run stories on this issue— i.e. the problems caused by industrial turbines sited too close to homes and sensitive wildlife areas—you’d probably run them.
My guess is that this story is from an area too far away (west coast) to qualify for WSJ, but here’s an AP story that came out yesterday.
I’ve been on deadline (as I’m sure have you) so I wasn’t able to answer your last email before now, but I plan to write a 200 word piece in the next week or so.
You are correct when you say I don’t live in a wind farm. My interest in this story is as a writer trying to help people who are now having problems living in wind farms get their story told.
On Thursday I’m heading up to Fond du Lac to sleep in the wind farm there, as a guest of a family that has had an especially hard time. The closest turbine to their home is about 1600 feet away.
Their son has to sleep with two radios playing on either side of his head to block out the turbine noise. Other parents run fans near their kid’s heads to help them sleep. Another method of coping with the noise is radio static turned up loud.
If the AP did a story about the people in the Fond du Lac wind farms who can’t sleep, do you think the WSJ would run it, even if you believe what is happening to the people up there is no big deal?
RESPONSE FROM SCOTT MILFRED
I don't make the decisions about what news to run in the paper. Just the opinions. I suspect that if the AP did a story here in Wisconsin we would probably run it. But that's not my call.
RED ALERT WISCONSIN!
A bill that would allow the Public Service Commission to decide where wind turbines can be sited in your community has been introduced by Senator Jeff Plale, (D- South Milwaukee) CLICK HERE to download the bill
Note from the BPWI Research Nerd: Better Plan, Wisconsin urges you to contact your legislators as soon as you can and let them know that Senator Plale's Turbine Siting Reform bill will allow the PSC to approve the of siting of industrial scale wind turbines much too close to homes and sensitive wildlife habitat.
Though the bill mentions no specifics about setbacks, noise limits, and other siting concerns, it is very clear about giving turbine siting approval to the PSC.
The PSC approved the siting of turbines 1000 feet from non-participating residents homes, and a noise limit of 50 decibels. Families in the PSC approved wind farms of Fond du Lac and Dodge Counties are now having a hard time living with the disastrous results.
Please contact your legislators (click here to find out who they are and how to contact them) and let them know if they want wind turbine siting reform, it should be based it on the Town of Union's Large Wind Ordinance. The guidelines used by the PSC were provided by an out-of-state utility with a keen interest in siting as many turbines as possible in any given area, and no interest in protecting public health, safety, welfare, property values or wildlife.
(Click here to download the Wisconsin draft Model ordinance, which has since been pulled from the PSC website. This is what the PSC used to site the turbines in the wind farms which are bringing people such misery)
Having trouble with turbine noise or shadow flicker? Want to get your story told? Contact us by clicking here. Better Plan, Wisconsin is ready to help!