5/29/10 TRIPLE FEATURE: How Now Brown County? What's going on with the Invernergy wind project AND Cashing in on Big Wind: Inside the AWEA AND Do wind turbines make noise? Um... you decide
MORRISON – Imagine dozens of wind turbines, standing 400 feet tall, stretching across the farm fields of southern Brown County.
They’d be spinning, day and night, for at least the next 30 years.
Some believe it’s a picture of progress.
“Of course it is. Wind has been used since the beginning of time,” said Glen Martin, a landowner in the town of Morrison.
Others see it as a major misstep.
“What do you do when the wind don’t blow?” said Dick Koltz, a landowner in Wrightstown.
Nine commercial wind farms are already up and running in Wisconsin, but on the table is a proposal for the largest project yet: 100 wind turbines in southern Brown County. It’s known as the Ledge Wind Energy Project.
The project has been proposed by Invenergy, a private wind developer from Chicago.
“The beauty of wind, once it’s installed, it just runs and runs and runs without harmful commodities having to be used up,” said Kevin Parzyck, the project development manager for Invenergy.
“We’re not claiming this is the end all for all power needs. It’s one component of the mix,” said Parzyck.
Parzyck said the electricity generated by the wind turbines would be sold to utility companies in Wisconsin.
The current proposal places 54 turbines in the town of Morrison, 22 in Holland, 20 in Wrightstown and 4 in Glenmore.
One would be on Glen Martin’s farmland in the town of Morrison. He believes the wind turbines are a necessary step towards energy independence.
“We have to produce this electricity and power some place, just like we have to grow a crop some place, just like we have to mine coal some place. This all has been to be done some place and this is a good place to do it,” said Martin.
But it’s not just about going green. Landowners would be paid as much as $10,000 per year for each turbine on their property. That’s quite the bonus, especially for farmers who have seen their share of struggles.
“Let’s face it, it would be nicer and times are tough. I’m sure the last couple of years swayed some of them into doing it. It is attractive,” said Dick Koltz.
Koltz signed a contract to have one turbine on his farmland in the town of Wrightstown, but said he’s now having serious doubts. His opinion changed drastically after seeing the wind turbines up close on a trip to Fond du Lac County.
“It just sort of hit me that this should never be. Not this close and not the area. It just wasn’t a good feeling,” said Koltz.
The feeling was so bad, in fact, Koltz is trying to get out of his contract with Invenergy.
Many of his concerns are being voiced loudly by the group Brown County Citizens for Responsible Wind Energy. Spokesman Jon Morehouse says the group is made up of neighbors who think the turbines are unsightly and unsafe.
“It can have mental and physiological effects on your body. There is also the low frequency sound waves as well as the sounds waves that you can hear and those have negative effects from sleep depravation to increase blood pressure,” said Morehouse.
Invenergy denies those claims.
“There’s anecdotal evidence of certain people with problems but there are no scientific studies that there are problems with wind noise,” said Kevin Parzyck, the project development manager for Invenergy.
The opposition group’s more than 200 members still aren’t convinced. They continue to show up at town hall meetings to voice their concerns.
The group’s spokesman turned down an offer to have three turbines on his property. It could have made him nearly one million dollars.
“I would never do something on my land that would negatively affect somebody else in our community,” said Jon Morehouse.
Others say they just don’t care if their neighbors don’t like the project.
“If I decide to go ahead and put something up like that, that’s my right,” said Glen Martin.
Even though Invenergy has been signing up landowners to participate in the project, the company is still in the process of modifying its application with the state. That application will ultimately be reviewed and voted on by the Public Service Commission — a process we’re told is likely still several months away.
MALONE – If you walked out of your home every morning and saw wind turbines in every which direction, is it a sight you would get used to?
“You don’t even notice them anymore. They’ve been here two years and it’s just a part of life now, I guess,” said Ken Krause, a farmer in the Fond du Lac County town of Marshfield.
Or, is it a site you would grow to hate?
“Not these big, industrial turbines. They just don’t belong here,” said Al Haas, a farmer in the Fond du Lac County town of Malone.
It’s something many neighbors in Fond du Lac County will never agree on. Opinions are even more polarized among those who live on the Blue Sky Green Field wind farm . With 88 wind turbines, it is currently the largest wind farm in the state.
Haas has three turbines spinning on his farmland. He makes about $15,000 a year just for having them there. That’s a nice side income with no extra work involved.
“We were told we would basically be able to farm right up to it. We were told there would be basically no land loss to speak of, it just sounded like a good deal,” said Haas.
That extra money? Haas now says it isn’t worth it. He blames the wind turbines for damaging his crops and interfering with his TV reception.
But his main complaint is the noise. He says it keeps him up at night and has led to stress.
“It can sound like a freight train going through the other end of town. The problem is that freight train don’t have a caboose. It don’t stop. It just keeps rolling and rumbling on and on and on, for hours and hours,” said Haas.
“There are probably 3 or 4 days out of the month where they are loud but I think it’s a small prices to pay,” said Ken Krause.
Krause stands on the other side of the wind debate. He even likes the look of the two turbines on his farmland.
“If each community in the country was doing what we are doing, we wouldn’t need foreign oil … Not as much anyway,” said Krause.
Krause points to the pain at the pump two summers ago.
“Some people are already forgetting the $4 (a gallon) gas we had a couple years back. This is helping,” said Krause.
So, are all the wind turbines worth it? That’s what people in Brown County want to know. Some have even contacted people on both sides of the issue in Fond du Lac County to hear first hand with it’s really like living inside a wind farm.
“Is there a place for wind? Maybe. But I don’t think it’s in Wisconsin,” said Jon Morehouse, the spokesman for Brown County Citizens for Responsible for Wind Energy .
The group represents more than 200 people who are opposed to large-scale wind development in Brown County. Many of those people say wind turbines blemish the landscape and pose health hazards.
“We need to slow down, we need to slow down until things get put into place to regulate these industrial monsters to a safe and healthy level,” said Morehouse. “People are going to have to put up with them for 30 years.”
100 turbines are proposed in southern Brown County, with 54 turbines going in the town of Morrison, 22 in Holland, 20 in Wrightstown and 4 in Glenmore. It would be the largest wind farm in the state.
The project is being developed by Invenergy, a private firm from Chicago . The company says the location is one of the best places to harness wind in Wisconsin.
“Wisconsin has very good places for good wind and good transmission capabilities near where the power is going to be used,” said Kevin Parzyck, the wind development manager for Invenergy.
Invenergy is still modifying its application for the project. It will ultimately go to the state Public Service Commission for a decision.
That process will likely take several more months which gives people in Brown County more time to research the issue.
“We want people to go. Go to a turbine, stand under a turbine, see what it’s like, the proof is in the pudding,” said Parzyck.
Though, there are many farmers in Fond du Lac County who say a few days in their shoes would turn most people against wind development.
It’s free, it’s everywhere and some think it’s the answer to our ever-increasing energy needs.
“Wind is the most feasible resource for most states because of its ability to scale up,” said Michael Vickerman, the executive director of RENEW Wisconsin. The non-profit group has been advocating for nearly two decades for widespread wind development in the state.
Wind turbines also provide struggling farmers a financial lifeline of thousands of dollars each year.
“For me, it’s a good thing,” said Gary Koomen, a landowner in the town of Morrison.
But as the state Public Service Commission continues to green light large-scale wind developments throughout the state, more and more people are speaking out against the projects.
“We need to slow down until things get put into place to regulate these industrial monsters to a safe and healthy level,” said Jon Morehouse, the spokesman for Brown County Citizens for Responsible Wind Energy. The group represents more than 200 people who are against large scale wind development in southern Brown County.
Right now, 9 commercial wind farms are operating in the state, with a total of more than 300 wind turbines. Though, 18 more wind farms have been proposed, which could push the number of turbines in the state upwards of 1,000.
The largest proposal on the table is 100 turbines in southern Brown County. The project is being developed by a private company from Chicago called Invenergy.
“I’ve always been a supporter of alternate energy to start with so it kind of appealed to me a consumer,” said Gary Koomen.
Koomen signed up to have two turbines on his farmland. He stands to pocket roughly $10,000 per year for each turbine. That kind of money can make life a little easier.
“Fun money,” laughed Koomen. “I’ll probably take a vacation.”
The push for wind development in the state stems back to 1999 when Wisconsin set its first renewable energy goal. The idea is to find energy sources that are sustainable.
Currently, utility companies are required to be providing 10% of electricity from renewable sources by 2015. Experts say, right now, the utilities are only about half way there.
“Without the standards, they have no reason to add more renewable energy,” said Michael Vickerman, of RENEW Wisconsin.
Vickerman says wind is the best renewable resource Wisconsin has, which is why he predicts a flurry of development in years to come.
“Wind will be the workhorse of all the renewable energy family. That’s true elsewhere in the Midwest,” he added.
The issue of wind development has divided communities and pitted neighbors against each other. One of the biggest fights continues to be over how close the massive turbines should be to neighboring properties.
Currently, many of the wind turbines are setback about 1000 feet. There are many people, however, who think they should be significantly farther away.
“It can have mental and physiological effects on your body. There are also the low frequency sound waves as well as the sounds waves that you can hear and those have negative effects from sleep depravation to increase blood pressure,” said Jon Morehouse, the spokesman for a group opposed to the project.
Wind developer Invenergy denies those claims.
“There’s anecdotal evidence of certain people with problems but there are no scientific studies that there are problems with wind noise,” said Kevin Parzyck, the wind development manager for Invenergy.
Though, Gary Koomen spoke with his neighbors about their concerns before signing up for the project. He said he wouldn’t have done it if they didn’t want him to.
“Probably not. I value the relationships I have in the neighborhood,” said Koomen.
The state has decided it wants to study the impact of wind turbines a little bit more. A 15 member wind siting committee was recently formed to advise the Public Service Commission on issues like noise levels and setback distances.
“These are legitimate points of disagreement and the more we can come to terms on those two issues, the better off we will all be,” said Michael Vickerman.
Vickerman is on the PSC’s wind siting committee. The committee’s goal is to come up with standards and rules for permitting large scale wind projects in the state.
Vickerman says uniform requirements are important because many communities have passed their own wind-related laws — some of which are designed to try and slow wind developmental.
The local laws may not even matter, however, because approval of large scale projects ultimately falls in the hands of the PSC.
“We have to resolve this issue before the wind industry gives up on Wisconsin,” said Vickerman.
Some admit that’s what they want.
“Whatever happened to using less and using less to the point where we save and use what we have more effectively. The wind thing does nothing but produce more,” said Jon Morehouse.
Much like the wind itself, the debate over wind development looks to be unending.
The PSC wants to have standards in place for permitting wind projects in the state by as early as this summer.
Officials at Invenergy tell FOX 11 they hope to start construction on 100 turbines in Brown County by 2011.
The question is: can these proposals withstand mounting opposition from the people who actually have to live among the wind turbines? The answer is still blowing in the wind.
SECOND FEATURE: Dig the AWEA conference by clicking on the image belo