4/19/10 QUADRUPLE FEATURE: Wisconsin family driven from home by wind turbine noise files a lawsuit AND Wind developers say, 'You better quit complaining or I'm going to take my ball and go home." AND The word of the day is 'boondogle' AND What to expect when you're expecting 122 industrial scale wind turbines
Oakfield couple files PSC complaint over wind farm: Family says turbines forced them from their home
SOURCE: FDL Reporter, www.fdlreporter.com
April 18 2010 By Colleen Kottke,
OAKFIELD — For years, Jason and Ann Wirtz poured countless hours into transforming their country farmstead into a place where they could raise their family and grow old together.
That dream has been blown away by the wind towers that sprang up around their County Trunk YY farmhouse located a half-mile north of Highway 49.
Just 18 months after the 86-turbine Forward Energy Wind Center went online, the couple abandoned the home that had been a labor of love for the past 12 years.
In a complaint filed this month with the Public Service Commission, the Wirtzes contend that the wind farm cost them their alpaca-breeding business and created significant health problems that eventually drove the family out of their home. The couple’s attorney, Ed Marion, is hopeful the PSC will require Invenergy LLC to compensate them for their losses.
“People told us we’d get used to (the noise and vibration). But you have no idea what it’s like until you live with it,” Ann Wirtz said.
Labor of love
The couple purchased the sprawling farmhouse with the wraparound porch in 1996. Rolling up their sleeves, they buried the remains of an old barn, razed silos and spent every moment of spare time renovating their two-story home.
“We were committed to that property,” Wirtz said. “We gave up a lot of nights and weekends over the years that could have been spent doing things with our kids as they were growing up. We sacrificed a lot of years thinking we were going to be there.”
As news of the impending wind farm spread, Jason began attending meetings and gathering information. Unsettled at what he discovered, the couple made the decision to sell their home and eight-acre property appraised at $320,000.
“A lot of people told us to call them if we ever wanted to sell. But when they learned about the wind farm they were no longer interested,” Wirtz said. “One Realtor told us we’d have to lower our asking price well below $200,000 just to get someone to look at it.”
With nary a buyer in sight, in 2008 the couple took the property off the market.
No rest for the weary
While some contend the “whoosh whoosh” sound of the turning blades is restful, the Wirtzes say the reverberation of the wind turbines robbed the family of sleep.
“The first nights the turbines were on our sleep was immediately different,” Wirtz said. “And it kept getting worse as time went on.”
The wind turbine that tormented the family the most was the tower located 1,250 feet west of their home. Wirtz said the noise from it was especially intolerable when the wind was blowing out of the west or southwest. To escape the sound, Wirtz abandoned her bedroom and slept in the living room, hopeful that the sound of the fan on the wood pellet stove would mask the low, pulsing sound in her head.
She likened the constant feeling of pressure to the sensation experienced at the top of a roller coaster before it plummets over the edge.
In spite of fatigue and anxiety, the Wirtzes continued to work full-time jobs. However, the toll it was taking on their children was something they couldn’t ignore, especially when Ann’s 16-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a severe stress-related illness.
“I was desperate to get out of there for her sake,” Wirtz said.
The family’s breeding herd of alpacas also experienced upheaval from the turbines. They said the quiet, docile animals became nervous and jittery and unable to carry pregnancies to full-term after the wind turbines arrived.
While the Wirtzes have had to file bankruptcy, their move to Oakfield has begun the healing process.
“Our sleep has returned to normal and I’m back to feeling like myself. My daughter is still dealing with the effects of stomach and intestinal problems, but it’s under control and we’re seeing improvements,” Wirtz said.
Although they’ve lost their home, Wirtz feels no ill toward those who allowed the turbines to be erected on their property.
“I honestly don’t blame them,” she said. “If I had owned farmland, I might have done the same, not knowing how it would affect the people forced to live under them.”
Oakfield family's lawsuit could affect the future of wind farms.
SOURCE: FDL Reporter, www.fdlreporter.com
April 18 2010
By Colleen Kottke
TOWN OF LEROY — A lawsuit filed by an Oakfield family targeting a Chicago-based wind developer could cause other companies to think twice about locating wind farms in Wisconsin.
Jason and Ann Wirtz filed a noise complaint with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission earlier this month arguing that noise created by the surrounding turbines in the Forward Wind Energy Center created health issues for their family, created havoc with their alpaca-breeding herd, and forced them to leave their home.
“Invenergy has a responsibility not to inflict hardship on the people. That’s in the law,” said Ed Marion, legal counsel for the Wirtzes. “It’s our position that they did, in fact, inflict hardship on the Wirtz family and if the PSC applies this statute — which usually protects people from hardship — then we’ll win.”
The amount of damages is not specified in the complaint.
Invenergy completed a comprehensive and thorough process evaluating the project before construction of the 86-turbine wind farm, said Will Borders, deputy general counsel for Invenergy.
“If it’s decided that landowners should be compensated regardless of the fact that there hasn’t been any demonstrable link between wind farm noise and health effects, that’s going to interject some uncertainty in the regulatory process that currently exists with the PSC — especially projects that have already been up and running,” Borders said.
He points to a study commissioned last year by the American Wind Association and Canadian Wind Association.
“The report found no link between wind farm noise and health effects,” Borders said. “And if the PSC finds that, in spite of these studies, developers have to pay damages, then I think it will impact the decision to develop more projects in the state.”
The complaint filed by the Wirtzes cites a report filed by the Minnesota Department of Health in which a study concluded sleeplessness and headaches were the most common health complaints caused by audible low-frequency noise. The study also found that complaints from residents living near wind turbines appeared to increase with noise levels above 35 decibels.
The Forward Energy Wind Center approved by the PSC limits noise levels at 50 decibels. The complaint contends the PSC has failed to update guidelines as more wind farms appear around the country. Marion noted that more information concerning noise standards has come forth since the project was sited in 2008.
“Generally speaking, as time progresses you will find out more about these wind farms as they become more prevalent. The more research that’s done as time goes on, the more we learn,” said Teresa Weidemann-Smith, communications specialist for the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.
While the PSC fields many complaints, concerns and questions from citizens throughout the project application process and construction, a complaint such as the one filed by the Wirtz family is uncommon.
“Normally the complaints that come into us reflect issues with water, electric, gas and/or telephone utility service problems,” Weidemann-Smith said.
Once the PSC receives a response from Invenergy, Weidemann-Smith says the regulating agency has 60 days to decide whether or not to open a formal hearing. If granted, the legal proceeding would be held before an administrative law judge who will make the final determination, Weidemann-Smith said.
Boondoggle: 1. wasteful pursuit: an activity or project that is unnecessary and wasteful of time or money, especially one undertaken for personal or political gain (Encarta World English Dictionary).
We Energies’ Domtar Wausau biomass project: Cost: $255 million, 50 megawatt, continuous power for 40,000 homes, onsite industrial footprint, 400 temporary construction jobs and150 permanent jobs.
Ledge Wind project: 100 wind turbines; cost: $400 million, 150 megawatt nameplate, power for 40,000 homes, 72- square- mile footprint, more than 800 homes affected, 300 temporary construction jobs and 15 permanent jobs.
Other than similarity in power produced, there is great contrast between these two renewable energy projects in cost, footprint, jobs and private property affected.
My home is a lifetime investment worth approximately $100,000, and the planned 1,000-foot proximity of two windmills will drop the value 40 percent, according to the 2009 Wind Turbine Impact Study — if I can sell it.
An act of God causing value reduction 25 percent to 40 percent on more than 800 homes would have the governor calling for disaster relief.
Many unwilling people are being put in an industrial zone, where their health and property value can and will be negatively affected.
We didn’t volunteer for the war on global warming; we should not be drafted to suffer for it. Don’t kid yourselves —as taxpayers and electrical ratepayers, you will pay for these projects.
Windmills in populated rural Wisconsin are boondoggles. Support cost-effective and people-friendly renewable energy projects.
FEATURE NUMBER FOUR: What to expect when you are expecting 122 industrial scale wind turbines:
Wind farm officials emphasize safety; Landowners meet with Bent Tree representatives
Albert Lea Tribune, www.albertleatribune.com
April 16, 2010
By Kelli Lageson
Safety was the main theme of a meeting Thursday for landowners involved in the Bent Tree Wind Farm project.
For instance, even though some work will be done on landowners’ private property, they aren’t allowed on the construction site. If they call ahead and ask they may be allowed to see some parts.
“This is your land and we respect that,” said Bent Tree construction manager Tim Shugart. “You can be on public roads, but please do not drive on access roads.”
Crews will be digging large holes for foundations and want landowners to be aware of the dangers involved.
“I just don’t want anyone hurt,” said Ted Francois, who deals with the developing of the project. “This is an exciting thing but there’s many things going on.”
The purpose of the meeting was to inform landowners of the changes they will see in the coming months. The meeting of Alliant Energy representatives, construction staff and landowners took place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Albert Lea Senior Center at Skyline Plaza.
About 100 people attended the meeting. The main speakers were Shugart and Ted Francois. Francois emphasized that safety will be a big part of the project.
“Safety is absolutely key to this project,” Francois said. “We had almost no injuries on our last project.”
Francois also said that work has already begun and more work will start Monday. People may not notice the work being done because it is mostly moving dirt and delivering rock to access roads and the main site near Hartland.
“This is the kickoff,” Francois said. “We’ve signed two contracts, and they will be out there digging before long.”
Ames Construction of Burnsville got the contract for civil work. That includes moving dirt and making and changing roads. Boldt construction of Appleton, Wis., received the contract for the concrete needed for the foundations of the turbines. The other bids not awarded yet are for the erection of the turbines and for the underground cable work.
“We’re starting immediately,” Francois said.
They hope to have 122 turbines up and working by March 2011. Francois said he wants landowners to know that Alliant, Vestas and the construction crews want to work with them to make it a better experience.
“We feel we’re here as guests,” Francois said. “Things will come up and please call us with problems.”
Francois mentioned that any problems that will arise can be brought to any crew members and they will make sure things get taken care of. He also talked about road restoration and payment for crop damage.
“When we’re done we’re going to make sure we get it back the best we can,” Francois said. “We want to make people satisfied when it’s all done.”
Francois also let landowners know that there will be an exasperating amount of traffic for the duration of the project. For each of the 122 sites, there will be about 55 trucks of gravel for the access road, 50 trucks of concrete and two semis of steel for the foundation as well as trucks hauling the pieces of the 11 cranes that will be used and parts of the turbines.
Landowners and all travelers on Minnesota Highway 13 and Interstate 35 will need to have patience, he said.
Though there will be an immense amount of traffic, the project will have positive influences on the community as well, he said. While the project is being built, it will bring about $40 million directly and indirectly to the community, as well as the taxes they will pay each year after the building is done, he said. There will also be 300 to 400 workers in the area for the duration of the project.
One question was about where people can apply for jobs related to the wind farm.
Shugart answered that the best place to apply is with unions. They will not hire people at the construction site.
Another question was about dust control with all the traffic on gravel roads. Shugart said at their last wind farm project they had about eight water trucks that stayed near construction areas. He said they will try their best to control the amount of dust but also that locals should expect some.
Francois said the construction crews will start on the south side of Manchester and work their way north on both sides of Highway 13. One audience member asked why they’re building a wind farm at the same time as major work on Highway 13.
“Well, we wanted to start last fall and it didn’t get approved by the state,” Francois said. “MnDOT did push back the project, but we don’t want them to push it back any further.”
Francois said he didn’t think Highway 13 could wait any longer for an upgrade. He did mention that they would try to get a lot of their work done before MnDOT starts on July 12.
“I’m glad the old road will be there to bear the brunt of this project,” Francois said.
He also said they are working with Freeborn County Engineer Sue Miller to make sure there are transportation plans for all trucks.
“We’re committed to taking care of the damage we cause,” Francois said.
Other questions were about whether crews would be working on Sundays. Shugart said they usually have a six-day work week with Sunday off, but weather issues could cause them to work some Sundays and miss other days.
Every day at the main site, crews have safety meetings and watch the weather. If there is a lightning strike within 30 miles or if winds are too blustery, they cannot work that day.
Francois said most people don’t realize how enormous these turbines will be when they are erect.
“They’re taller than a football field standing on end,” Francois said.
He said a football field is about 360 feet total, including end zones, and the turbines will be 397 feet tall, which is also taller than the Statue of Liberty.
The turbines are Vestas V82 and 1.65 megawatts. This wind farm project will amount to 200 megawatts, which can power approximately 50,000 homes. The total weight of each turbine is more than 350,000 pounds. There will be 26 miles of access roads built in the county. Alliant Energy is investing more than $400 million in the first phase of this project. The second phase — another 200 megawatts — has no start date yet as they are waiting for approval from Minnesota and Wisconsin. Anyone with questions about the project is encouraged to call Alliant Energy at (800) 545-3122.