GALVA, Ill. — Opponents of a proposed wind farm in east-central Henry County gathered at Black Hawk East College this week to hear about the impact of wind turbines on quality of life and the local landscape.
He said the crane used to erect the turbines weighs 1.5 million pounds and when it rode across the field it created a 22-inch rut, 7 feet wide.
"They say, 'We'll fix that,'" he said, but he compared it to breaking a clay pot into hundreds of pieces. "You don't have soil again," he said. "Just filling in the ruts doesn't fix the problem of the ruts, it just covers it up."
He said their house gets shadow flicker from the turbine and it's amplified by glass and mirrors and reflected off their barn. He's even been woken up by half-moon flicker during the night. They've been told to plant trees, but he wonders how long he's supposed to wait before the trees are big enough to work, and even then flicker can come through the leaves.
He said noise from the turbines is very distracting. "All my life, you train yourself to listen to the equipment," he said, "It's a huge distraction."
The forum was sponsored by Sauk Trail Organization for Preservation (STOP II) and Black Hawk College. It was the second presentation, the first being in May with representatives of four different Native American tribes who said Henry County was a good hunting grounds for their tribes.
Owned by Avangrid Renewables of New Haven, Conn., the Midland wind farm traces its history in Henry County to at least 2003 when the company was known as Iberdrola. The Henry County Board approved a special use permit for the wind farm last December when the lead developer for the project said it would be 100 megawatts with up to 40 turbines of 2.5 to 4.5 megawatts with a maximum tip height of 599 feet. It would be situated between Cambridge, Kewanee and Galva.
A coalition of 15 neighbors filed suit on Avangrid last March, moderator Dick Wells of Annawan reminded the audience. The next hearing on Avangrid's motion to dismiss the suit will be Nov. 13 in Henry County Circuit Court, he said.
Kevon Martis, a senior policy fellow at the Energy and Environment Legal Institute in Washington, D.C., joined Guither in addressing the group.
Martis gave a kind of a pep talk for working on zoning ordinances for wind turbines. He said being here first counts, and the county's wind energy zoning regulations ignore sound science.
He talked about "trespass zoning," defining it as allowing wind farm companies to measure the distance from turbines not to the neighbor's property line, but to the actual house. He said it means you've executed a safety easement in the neighbor's property that could preclude the neighbor from building or future development.
"My right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins," he said. "This is fundamentally unjust."
He said setbacks may want to go out one mile or one and one-fourth mile. He also talked about two-stage setbacks, one for the property owner signing the lease with the company and another for the neighbor not signing the lease at four times the distance. The companies have got to buy neighbors out, they shouldn't force them out.
"A small subset of the population should not bear the price of saving the planet," he said.
He cited a wind industry magazine, Wind Energy, saying ice throws can come off turbine blades up to 2,000 feet.
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Landowners trying to get compensation for damage to fences, tiles, roads or crops have a hard time when wind farms change hands, which happens constantly according to Guither.
He said the wind energy companies were out in the fields during the wet parts of this spring until the county board saw it for themselves and got it stopped. "In the meantime, it made a terrible mess," he said.
When turbines are taken down, the pilings are only excavated to 5 feet. He noted corn roots go down 8 feet and alfalfa roots go down 20. He said when one turbine fell, it dented the ground the length of the tower about 6 feet.
Guither's wife Katherine said her concern was whether her plaster was going to come down, and whether her old pipes were going to fracture.
She said when she goes out into the field to cut hay, the shadow flicker is very disorienting until she's about halfway in the field and it no longer affects her peripheral vision. She said in her house when the flicker is bad she has nowhere to go but a 10-foot by 15-foot laundry room.
She described waking up at night when the turbine turns off and then when it starts again. Noise bothers her a lot during the day as well. She's gotten a decibel reading of 78 (the recommended limit is frequently 40 in various jurisdictions) but she can't take that to court because she's not a licensed audiologist.
"It's an awesome day when they don't run. You can hear the birds, you can hear the crickets. Things that we came to the farm to hear," she said.
She also described missing a relative's game in the state basketball championship because of poor reception. She said the wind energy company offered a year of free cable, but then they would be on their own after that.
Martis is from Michigan, and showed maps of Michigan wind resources compared to Iowa's. He said you pay two and a half times the price for Michigan wind as what you can import from Iowa for, and Illinois is similar.
In terms of carbon dioxide production, he said replacing coal with natural gas would be the best way to reduce CO2 emissions.
He challenged the financial contributions of the wind energy companies, saying they take in $200 million in production tax credits for every $500,000 they return to the community. Further, he said all the money comes from rate-payers, employees and the U.S. Treasury. He said only about one percent of farmers are receiving lease payments from wind energy so the argument that they are saving the family farm is specious.
In Michigan, he noted wind energy had wanted to put turbines on the highest two points in the county at Keweenaw Bay, but people did succeed in stopping the project.
He said one of his friends' houses was 1,139 feet from a turbine and the friend had to sleep in the basement to escape the noise of the turbines. He took a 35 percent loss in the value of the property. He said there are many, many studies showing significant loss in property values. The man sued and got a settlement.
He said the wind energy firms will re-power a wind farm after nine years to get the new production tax credits, even though the turbines will last 20 years.
He talked about Illinois' LaSalle Standards, a series of tests or criteria that should be applied to zoning considerations.
Martis said the standard should be that "if the proposed activity cannot be performed in our community with health, safety, and welfare, it should not take place."
"Revenue stream is not a valid zoning consideration," he said.