A proposal to construct a wind turbine network in the Town of Forest, east of New Richmond, isn’t being met with universal support.
A number of local residents have been attending Town of Forest Board and Planning Commission meetings over the past few weeks to voice their displeasure with the plan.
The project is being promoted by Emerging Energies of Wisconsin LLC, a Hubertus company that is involved in several wind farm projects across the region.
Emerging Energies has been studying wind speeds in the St. Croix County township for more than two years.
In an earlier interview with the New Richmond News, Bill Rakocy, co-founder and principal of Emerging Energies, said the Forest area is “very favorable” as a site for large wind turbines. The company’s research shows that average wind speeds are about 16 to 17 mph, which is sufficient to turn a large turbine and thus generate electricity.
Emerging Energies hopes to construct up to 40 turbines in the Forest area by 2013 and sell the power to a utility company such as WE Energies or Xcel. A number of local landowners have expressed an interest in having one of the 2.5-megawatt, 350- to 495-foot-tall turbines constructed on their land.
A developer’s agreement was signed in August between the Forest Town Board and Emerging Energies. Under the agreement, landowners within a half mile of each turbine, the Town of Forest and St. Croix County would receive annual direct payments during the life of the turbines.
In response to the town’s agreement action, residents opposed to the proposal formed an advocacy group called “Forest Voice.”
The group has since asked the town board to consider a moratorium on wind turbine installation until an ordinance could be developed regulating such structures in the community.
But after receiving advice from its attorney, the town board noted that any new ordinance wouldn’t apply to the Emerging Energies project because regulations cannot be retroactively changed once something is already approved and a developer’s agreement is signed.
Residents then asked the town board to reconsider its agreement, suggesting that the contract was void because it was “illegal.”
Forest resident Jaime Junker, spokesperson for “Forest Voice,” said there was a “rush” to get the agreement signed and that the appropriate steps were not followed when the wind project was first approved in 2008 and then later solidified on Aug. 12, 2010.
He said the town’s planning commission never voted on a recommendation on the matter, even though later documents suggest that that body voted to recommend the project.
Junker also said that a resolution related to the eventual developer’s agreement may not have been properly signed, leading “Forest Voice” members to conclude that the agreement isn’t yet a legally-binding document.
According to a Notice of Claim filed by “Forest Voice,” opponents of the proposal worry that the wind project will have a negative impact on the health and safety of residents, as well as have a detrimental impact on the quality of life for those living in the township.
Junker said the filed notice is the first step in the group’s potential legal action against local elected officials and Emerging Energies.
Two town board members met in closed session last Thursday to consider the suggestion that the agreement be nullified. Town Chairman Roger Swanepoel has recently abstained from being involved in the wind turbine issue because of a conflict of interest.
No action was taken to rescind the agreement when the town board members recovened in open session Thursday.
Board member Carlton Cress said the the agreement will apparently stand as originally approved.
Cress called the situation “unfortunate,” but noted that concerned residents should have gotten involved in the approval process sooner.
“We’ve had some good meetings on the subject, and a lot of people on both sides of the topic have been there,” Cress said. “But they weren’t at our meetings at the right time.”
He said earlier meetings related to the wind turbines were well publicized and the board was open to any feedback. But when few objections surfaced, the project went through.
Cress added that the wind turbine controversy has been the most contentious debate he’s been involved in during his 24 years on the town board.
A state panel, established by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, approved a new set of standards for wind turbine construction in August. The Forest project likely will not be covered by those new rules because the project was officially approved by the town board in 2008.
HEPPNER, Ore. – An Oregon county is telling the owner of a big wind farm to quiet down so neighbors can sleep at night. The operator of the Willow Creek Energy Center southwest of Boardman objects to the unusual noise enforcement.
Another wind farm developer active in the area has reportedly paid neighbors “hush money” to head off similar trouble. Correspondent Tom Banse has been traveling through eastern Oregon this week for a two part series on how wind power is seen by those closest to it. Here’s his report from Morrow County.
General contractor Dan Williams lives in a hexagonal house designed to let in panoramic views from all directions. Two years ago, this northern Oregon big sky scenery changed dramatically.
Williams: “White sticks and propellers everywhere!”
A wind power developer put up dozens of towering wind turbines on the other side of the Willow Creek valley. The blades spin about three-quarters of a mile away. Retired firefighter Dennis Wade lives even closer to the windmills. Wade drops by the Williams’ place for a chat.
Dennis Wade: “It sounds like a train or a jet that never arrives, that just keeps going in one place.”
Dan Williams: “The sleeplessness…that’s the major thing for us.”
Dennis Wade: “I have woken up at night and it’s like somebody beating on your chest from the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.”
Dan Williams: “For me, it makes me feel uneasy.”
Dennis Wade: “I have migraines. This has kicked the migraines up.”
Tom Banse: Do you get used to it, like if you live on the ocean you get used to the sound of the waves?
Dan Williams: “I haven’t, no. This sound is different. I think it affects my body.”
Dennis Wade: “The feelings that Dan was talking about, once you leave and go away for a day or so, they recede and you feel back to your normal self.”
Sound: (wind turbines return)
Dan Williams acknowledges that the sounds and vibrations bother some people, while others in the area go unaffected. Last year, a small group complained to the county. Many meetings and noise surveys ensued. Finally this week, the Morrow County Planning Commission rendered a decision. It found the wind farm in violation of an obscure Oregon industrial noise limit.
Sound: planning commission votes 5-0 in favor
The county gave the wind farm operator six months to come into compliance.
Neither side of the noise debate is pleased. The wind farm neighbors don’t want to wait six months or more for peace and quiet. The energy company says it intends to keep generating wind power while it pursues its legal options. Alissa Krinsky is a spokesperson for Invenergy based in Chicago.
Alissa Krinsky: “Although we appreciate the time and deliberations of the Morrow County Planning Commission, we are disappointed in its decision and believe there has been a fundamental misreading of the standard under which Oregon law regulates noise emissions.”
At the county seat, Invenergy passed out a fact sheet. It cites a U.S. Department of Energy finding that a “modern wind farm at a distance of 750-1000 feet is no more noisy than a kitchen refrigerator.”
An attorney for the neighbors has suggested the operator idle some turbines at night under certain wind conditions. The company has been silent about what options exist to make a wind farm quieter. Early on, Dennis Wade says Invenergy offered to pay neighbors for a “noise easement” or waiver.
Dennis Wade: “Quiet money, I guess you’d call it.”
Tom: “And you said what?”
Dennis Wade: “No, thank you.”
A different wind energy developer with a project under construction nearby is trying to head off similar problems. That company reportedly is writing $5000 checks to neighbors who agree not to complain about turbine noise. Caithness Energy declined to say how many households took them up on the deal. Caithness’ Shepherd Flats project will be the nation’s biggest wind farm when it is completed in about two years.
Morrow County Planning Commission chair David Sykes says this whole episode provides a hard lesson for his panel and others.
David Sykes: “We’ve talked about how we’re going to approach the next one to avoid this. We don’t want to be in this position. We want it to run smoothly and have the noise issue not be an issue.”
Next time, Sykes says he’ll ask for noise modeling in advance of construction. Other Northwest counties are debating turbine buffers or setbacks.
One other sign of gusty weather ahead for the wind industry: The Oregon Public Health Division has scheduled three “listening sessions” in northeastern Oregon next week (Nov. 3-4). The agency says it wants to look into whether the health concerns about living next to a wind farm have any scientific validity.
Oregon Public Health Division – Health impacts of wind energy assessment:
John Grabski, representing the Jerusalem Preservation Association, brought a seldom explored topic to the subject of wind farms at the Oct. 20 Jerusalem Town Council meeting - economic devaluation.
Public discussions on wind farms usually include noise, flicker, dead birds and discontented cows. Grabski pointed to those briefly, but his main point was to suggest measures to protect against personal property value loss. Instead of looking at the big picture of how much money wind turbines could bring to the town and landowners, he pointed out in a detailed approach how money could be lost long term.
“According to expert organizations such as professional Certified Real Estate Appraisers, industrial wind development adversely impacts land values within the immediate wind-zone and a peripheral area of approximately two miles,” according to Grabski.
He based his data on research conducted by the Certified Real Estate Appraisers in various states for property within two miles of wind turbines. He then applied this formula to the 346 homes and land affected by wind development, as defined by the Town of Jerusalem as a possible site. He then narrowed it down to 180 parcels located in the immediate vicinity or High Impact Area.
According to the findings, the property value of the 180 parcels is $18,674,000 which generates $356,000 in school and property taxes annually.
Based on CREA studies, property value declines from 20 to 43 percent can be expected in parcels within two miles of turbine sites. Assuming an average of this estimate, the taxable loss would be $5,602,200 for the 180 homes.
Over the term of a 20 year wind project, the tax revenue loss could be $2,780,571 to $5,561,014, according to calculations, based on the formula.
Grabski said a bondposated by the wind developer would help with lost tax revenue, and added, “People would start to sell and others would ask for lower assessments. It’s happening all over the country.”
“If what developers say is true, and there is no desire on the part of landowners to exit the development area, and that newcomers will continue to seek and purchase property in the wind zone, then there should be no negative impact on property values. If this is true, wind developers should be both willing and able to provide a property value guaranty to landowners with no economic risk on their part. Conversely, if property values indeed decline, then neither the wind company nor the town at large should profit at the expense of the home and land owners,” said Grabski in his address to the board.
The Jerusalem Preservation Association recommends putting a Property Value Bond requirement into the Wind Ordinance to protect both the citizens of Jerusalem from personal loss and the Town from citizens seeking remedy or remuneration for damage or economic loss from wind farm development.
The organization also presented the board with three pages of other recommendations for the wind turbine law dealing with setbacks, noise, health and other issues.
The Jerusalem Preservation Association was formed in the summer of 2009, when some residents learned areas near their properties were being proposed as possible wind farm sites. The group is also discussing the risks of Marcellus Shale drilling.
The Jerusalem Town Board has been exploring the possibility of wind turbines in the town for a few years. A committee was formed and several public meetings have been held, but there has been no action. Councilman Neil Simmons, who was active in the public meetings, thanked Grabski for bringing to light a different approach that the town hadn’t looked at before.
Councilman Ray Stewart asked people in the audience of about 40, how many were there in regard to this topic. About 30 raised their hands. Grabski said the association could have filled the parking lot, “But the topic is too important to make a circus of it.”