4/27/10 QUADRUPLE FEATURE: Wind Developer a-comin'! It's Open Season on rural Wisconsin communities AND Help a Wind Developer Out: Chicago-based Invenergy Goliath may get back up from legislature in its fight against one rural Wisconsin family AND The Wirtz Family Story for those who missed it AND Lets look at a wind tower 'tilt up' -- wait, how big is that thing again?
Click on the image above to see what the future looks like for rural Wisconsin
Proposed wind farm riles some lakeshore residents
SOURCE: WFRV Green Bay, www.wfrv.com
April 27, 2010
by Angenette Levy,
Residents of five lakeshore communities crowded a town hall Monday night to voice their concerns over a proposed wind farm.
Oregon-based Element Power hopes to build 111 wind turbines in five towns in southern Kewaunee and northern Manitowoc Counties: Carlton, West Kewaunee, Mishicot, TwoCreeks and Two Rivers.
The company would build the turbines and supply energy from them to local utilities. In order to comply with Wisconsin’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, utilities must derive 10% of the energy sold from renewable sources by 2015.
“Your contract is totally one-sided for Element Energy. It’s totally against the landowners,” one landowner told engineers with Element Power.
Landowners said they are concerned the wind farm could negatively impact property values, wildlife populations and the health of residents. Element Power does not currently operate any wind farms in Wisconsin.
Company representatives told the standing room only crowd that many of their concerns were not based in fact.
“From what we’ve seen, these concerns are unfounded based on science and we plan to prove that through our studies,” said Michael Arndt of Element Power.
Joel Link, an engineer with ElementPower, said residents would be seeing “stories all over CNN” if the turbines caused health problems. Link encouraged residents to visit others living in wind farm communities. At least two residents said they had, and didn’t like what they heard.
“We have found out so much information about them and how unhealthy they are,” said Lynn Holly, a town of Carlton resident who opposes the turbines. Holly said she traveled to Fond du Lac Co. and spoke with residents who complained of shadow flicker and health problems.
Joel Link dismissed residents concerns about turbines causing health problems, but conceded the turbines would change the towns’ landscapes.
“We’re not saying there are no impacts for windmills. I would never sit here and say that. There certainly are impacts.”
Element Power representatives said nearly 100 landowners had signed on to the project. Those who agree to lease their land to the company would receive between $8,000 and $15,000 per year. Element Power believes the project could create $2 million in landowner revenue annually. Michael Arndt said towns and counties could expect to receive as much as $800,000 in shared revenue annually.
But, Carlton town chairman Dave Hardtke said he’s skeptical about that projection. Hardtke believes communities have been short-changed by the state for the amount of money received from the two nuclear power plants on the lakeshore.
“The biggest concern is I don’t trust the state as far as what we’re going to get for it,” Hardtke said.
The wind farm proposal is subject to Wisconsin Public Service Commission approval. If the PSC signs off, Element Power could start building turbines in 2012.
NOTE FROM THE BPWI RESEARCH NERD: It is Better Plan's understanding that the project proposed by Element Energy was previously owned by wind developers EcoEnergy who have informed Better Plan they are no longer developing projects in Wisconsin.
The Rock County Towns of Magnolia and Union also had projects which EcoEnergy sold to Spanish wind developer Acciona. The fate of these projects is unknown. Acciona has not responded to repeated inquiries from Better Plan.
Wind farm fight draws Capitol response
By Paul Snyder
A wind farm dispute in Dodge County is catching the attention of state lawmakers who worry the case could affect the future of renewable energy development.
“I think this is a Pandora’s box that could lead to all sorts of unnecessary litigation,” said state Rep. Mark Honadel, R-South Milwaukee. “And I think it’s the kind of decision the state Legislature would have to take up in some form.”
Chicago-based Invenergy LLC and Oakfield residents Ann and Jason Wirtz are awaiting Public Service Commission action on a complaint the Wirtzes filed earlier this month. The Wirtzes are claiming damages as a result of the Forward Energy Wind Center, which went online in 2008 in Brownsville.
The Wirtzes claim family members suffered health problems, the noise from nearby turbines cost them their alpaca-breeding business and a lack of interest from homebuyers led them to abandon their property in September.
But in a response filed last week, Invenergy argued the dispute is not within the PSC’s jurisdiction and finding in favor of the family would “inappropriately counteract” the state Legislatureís policy favoring development of alternative energy.
State Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, said he disagrees with Invenergy’s argument.
Although the state has a goal of generating 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2015, the state Legislature last week did not vote on the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which would have established more renewable energy policies. Wisconsin also is waiting on recommendations from a PSC-directed council that will determine appropriate placement of wind turbines throughout the state.
For now, Plale said, the state’s policies on renewable energy development are scattershot at best.
“They’re evolving on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis,” he said. “The Legislature just got the ball rolling with respect to wind farms, and I think policies will change complexion a few times yet.”
But Joe Condo, Invenergy’s vice president and general counsel, said developers want certainty for projects, and a wind-development policy in flux will deter future projects.
That argument failed to sway the Wirtzes’ Madison-based attorney, Edward Marion, who said the family was not out of line in asking for a PSC judgment, and the complaint does not affect future renewable energy development.
“In terms of precedent or that old argument about slippery slope, I don’t see it,” he said. “As far as I know, this is the first time anyone has filed a claim like this, and they’re the only ones thinking about filing this kind of claim.”
PSC Spokeswoman Teresa Weidemann-Smith said the commissioners have not yet scheduled a discussion on the case.
The Legislature should take note of the PSC’s decision, said state Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover. But arguing the state favors renewable energy and cannot be questioned, he said, is flimsy.
“I don’t think there’s anyone,” he said, “who thinks the laws on the books right now will still be there five years from now.”
But if five years from now, Wisconsin families can sue over projects already approved and operating, it would be a business killer, Honadel said. A PSC judgment in favor of the Wirtzes, he said, would set a dangerous precedent.
“The minute you open the door for someone to become compensated because they don’t like what’s happening next door,” he said, “you open yourself up for more to follow.”
Note from the BPWI Research Nerd: For those who have not been following the Wirtz family story, we re-post a story written by Lynda Barry after an interview with Ann and Jason Wirtz in June of 2009 before they moved from their home because of wind turbine noise.
Lynda Barry is a Wisconsin writer who is currently doing research for a book about life in Wisconsin's industrial wind projects.
Interview with Ann and Jason Wirtz
N1157 Hwy YY
Oakfield, WI 53065
Dodge County, Wisconsin
Conducted on the evening of May 2, 2009
WIND TURBINE NOISE FORCES WISCONSIN FAMILY TO ABANDON HOME
TOWN OF OAKFIELD- Ann and Jason Wirtz have a pretty Wisconsin farmhouse near the Town of Oakfield. It’s the kind of place that had people stopping by to ask if the family would consider selling it.
“They’d just pull into our driveway,” says Ann, a mother of four. “There were people who said if we ever decided to sell it, we should call them.”
Although turn-of-the-century house needed a lot of work when they bought it, the Wirtz family didn’t mind. They planned to stay. Both Ann and Jason grew up in the area and wanted to raise their children there.
“I thought we were going to live here for the rest of our lives.” says Ann. “I thought one of our kids was going to live here after us.”
This was before 86 industrial wind turbines went up around their home as part of the Chicago based Invenergy's Forward Energy wind project which began operation in March of 2008. The closest turbine is to the Wirtz home is less than 1300 feet from their door.
“Last night it was whining,” said Ann. “It wasn’t just the whoosh whoosh whoosh or the roaring. It was a high pitched whine. And I don’t just hear them, I can feel them.”
She describes a feeling like a beat in her head, a pulse that matches the turbine’s rhythm. “Last night was really bad,” she said.
She says she knows which nights are going to be loud by which way the turbine blades are facing, and her family dreads the nights when the wind is out of the west. “That’s when they are the loudest.”
Jason said he found out there was a wind farm planned for his area from a neighbor he ran into at the post office. “He asked me if I knew anything about the turbines coming in. I didn’t.” Jason came home and mentioned it to Ann.
“When I first heard about it I wasn’t that alarmed.” says Ann, “People were saying how bad they could be, but I just didn’t believe them at first.”
She assumed the turbines would be sited much further away from her home, unaware of the controversy over the setbacks approved by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin which allows turbines to be sited close as 1000 feet to the homes of people like the Wirtzes.
“All those orange flags they put in were way back there. I was thinking it wouldn’t be too bad. And then when that access road started coming in so close I said, ‘what the heck is going on?’
Meanwhile, Jason had been attending town meetings and learning more about the project. The more he learned, the more worried he became. Five months before the turbines went up, the Wirtz family decided to sell their house.
They called people who had let them know they’d be interested in buying it. “When they found out about the turbines,” said Ann, “They weren’t interested anymore.”
The Wirtz family prepared the house to put on the market. In November of 2007, the home, sitting on eight acres, was appraised for $320,000. But this once sought-after property could find no buyers. “As soon as people found out about the wind farm coming in,” says Ann. “That was it. And once they started building the roads to the turbines, forget it. They’d ask what that road was for, we’d tell them and we’d never hear from them again.”
After the turbines went up, interested buyers stopped showing up altogether.
“We tried to find another realtor,” said Ann, “They’d ask ‘is it near the wind turbines?’ and when they found out it was, they wouldn’t even bother to come out to the house to look at it. One realtor told me it wasn’t worth her marketing dollars to even list it because if it was in the wind farm she knew she couldn’t sell it. I mean have you ever heard of a real estate agent turning down a chance to sell a house?”
Another realtor said they would have to price it under $200,000 to get anyone to even look at it. “At that price we were going to be $50,000 worse than when we started, “ said Ann. “And that didn’t include the 12 years of work we put into the place.”
But the Wirtzes were increasingly anxious to get away from the turbines. While Jason, who works nights, wasn’t having much trouble with the turbine noise, it was keeping Ann and her children from sleeping well at night. They were tired all the time. They were also getting frequent headaches.
And there was trouble with their animals as well. The Wirtz family raise alpaca and have a breeding herd. Ann says the Alpaca became jumpy the first day the turbines went on line. “Normally they are so calm. But the day the towers started up, they seemed to panic. They were on their back legs right away.”
Ann says the herd had always been docile and healthy, with no breeding problems. Since the wind farm started up, their temperament has changed and none of the females have been able to carry a pregnancy to full term. “ They’re nervous all the time now. I can’t prove anything but I do know my animals. And I really felt something was wrong. All the years we’ve had them we’ve never had a problem.”
At night herd shelters in the large metal shed behind the Wirtz home. When the turbines are loud, Ann says the sound echoes inside the shed and the metal vibrates and hums. “The noise in here gets just unbelievable. When the tin starts to vibrate in here, they can’t stand it. I have to find them a better home. This is torture for them.”
The same turbine noise has driven Ann out of her own bedroom “I can’t stand to be in that room anymore. I don’t sleep at all. My sleep has been terrible.” Instead she sleeps on the couch where a fan on their pellet stove helps counter the turbine noise. “My number one complaint is how tired I am all the time,” says Ann, “I never had that before, ever.”
Says Jason, “We don’t have air conditioning, we didn’t want it and we didn’t need it. In the summer we just opened the windows and let cross breezes cool the house. But the first summer with the turbine noise we had to shut the windows and turn on the fan. We couldn’t stand it.”
After one of the children was recently diagnosed with a severe stress-related illness, the Wirtzes decided they’d had enough. They decided the health of their family was more important than keeping their home, and they are abandoning it.
“Now, after all the trouble we’ve had living here” said Ann, “ If a family showed up and wanted to buy the place and they had kids, I don’t think I could sell it to them. Knowing what I know about living here, I just don’t think I could put another family through this.”
They are now looking for a place in a nearby village. “We were born and raised in the country but we’re thinking of moving to Oakfield because they aren’t going to plop a 400 foot turbine in the middle of the village, says Jason. “And I know I’m going to have to drive by this place every day on my way to work. It’s going to make me sick to see it, but I can’t stay here anymore.”
Ann adds, “I say we move near whoever it is that decides on the setbacks because you know they’ll never have a turbine by their place”
Jason and Ann sit at the dining room table and point out the elaborate woodwork they’d stripped and re-finished by hand. Jason holds a picture of the farmhouse from happier times. Earlier that day they’d met with the people at the bank to let them know they were giving up their home.
Jason says, “At least we’re young enough to start over. My mom, she doesn’t have much money and now she has turbines around her house. She said, ‘This house was my retirement,’ Her and my dad put everything into that house. Now I don’t know what she’s going to do.”
Jason says, “ The quality of life we had here is just gone. I grew up here and I loved it here. But I don’t anymore. ”
UPDATE: The Wirtz family has since moved to the village of Oakfield.