By courtesy of Rock County Tax-Payers for a Better Renewable Energy Plan
Interview (part 1) with Ralph and Kevin Mittelstadt, dairy farmers, Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin. See transcript below (again, thanks to Better Plan).
Q: You both farm– a family farm. Dairy farm?
Kevin: Dairy and cash crop.
Q: And you also fly [airplanes]?
Q: What can you tell us about you experience with this development in this area from when it started until today?
Kevin: We gave it an open mind when they came, and we decided not to go with the developer when it came down to it.
Q: You hosted a met tower on your land?
Ralph: For a little over two years.
Q: What was the experience like working with that company with the met tower, was it a good experience?
Ralph: There was no problem with the met tower and it didn’t interfere with the land too much because we put it on one of the fence lines. Only the diagonal cables that come off– we had to look out for when we worked around it.
Q: What were some of the issues you found with your decision to not host a turbine. Did they give you any problems when you decided that you didn’t want to participate in the project?
Ralph: The company?
Ralph: Yeah, they were very negative to us. They actually come out and threatened me. “Either you do this or we’re going to put them around you.” And he told us if we don’t sign the contract, “we’re going to put them all around you and shut you right down.”
Kevin:[Our first contact was when] We got a call from the company in Illinois in 2002 and one of the guys actually came out here and we didn’t know what was going on, this was the first we ever heard of it. Basically they said they knew of our airstrip because it’s on the map, and that if we didn’t go along with what they were going to do in the future, they would build around you.
Q: What was your primary reason for choosing not to participate with the tower? Was it because of your airstrip and how it would interfere with that?
Ralph: I think, if there was any reason, one was we’d lose too much farmland, it would create a problem with flying, because propellers create a vortex and your plane becomes unstable and it pulls you down, so now we can’t spray our crops and we’re damaging so much good farmland, so we figured it wouldn’t be feasible to even go that way because we’d be losing too much in agriculture.
Q: Now you have wind turbine around you. We look out the window here and you’ve got one here and another one over there– have they affected your flying? Have you flown with them up?
Kevin: You wouldn’t want to fly down wind of them. They place them far enough apart– [the turbines] themselves so they don’t create turbulence between the two so you probably wouldn’t want to fly in between there.
Q: So is your runway impacted by this type of development?
Kevin: Yeah. They actually hired a pilot that was one of the friends of one of the lawyers to testify to the PSC that he flew down by Paw Paw Illinois [where there are turbines] and it didn’t affect him when he flew. He came and testified, he was at all the hearings saying that it wasn’t a problem. Had these graphics. What it would look like to have one next to your runway. Claimed that the buildings are more of a problem for a runway than a wind turbine.
Q: Because of the air flow?
Kevin: Because of the close proximity of our runway to the hanger there. [He said] it would be more of an obstacle than a 400 foot wind turbine.
Q: You mentioned this in this area– there’s a lot of crop dusting?
Ralph: We did have a lot of cash cropping. Peas and sweet corn.
Q: Can you tell us how that’s changed and how this type of development is going to affect that?
Ralph: Well, the peas and corn are kind of going out if we can’t spray with the airplane. Because it doesn’t make sense to drive in fields where the crops are big already and run it down.
Kevin: The problem is– like this last summer we had problems with the sweet corn, a lot of it blew over sideways– and you can’t get down the rows. So we lose an option.
Q: Are the other farmers in the area that are close to the wind turbines are they concerned about not being able to spray their ground?
Ralph: A couple of them. One of them that hosted turbines right here to the south of us asked the company if they would shut the turbines down when the crop duster goes through.
Q: What’d they say?
Ralph: They said no.
Q: What’s your experience been, either with the local officials or the company. Do you feel like they came in here and they wanted to work with people or did they just come in here and disregard what people thought?
Ralph: They seem to come in and– they put up a front like they are really trying to do something for you. But in the long run, they’re going to stick you in the back it seems. And they want to turn neighbor against neighbor. So that you can fight amongst [yourselves] and then they can come out and sit back and be the winners.
Q: Let me ask you a couple of questions about the quality of life. You mentioned you talked to your neighbors. Can you comment at all about the noise or the sound or what it sounds like or what other people have thought about that?
Kevin: When the winds over 12 miles an hour it sort of sounds like a jet engine. It’s a deeper tone, you know, a deep roar.
Q: Does it keep you awake at night, does it wake you up? Does it affect people’s sleep patterns?
Ralph: You can hear it when you’re outside. But now it’s winter and we don’t have our windows open. So that’s going to make a difference. When you’re outside you can hear it constantly.
Q: What are the setbacks like around here from a home. This [turbine] here you mentioned is 1000-1500 feet away?
Kevin: I think that’s the minimum. [1000 feet]
Ralph: That’s the minimum.
Q: Do you feel that’s adequate? That they should be set father away?
Ralph: I think they should be set farther away from the home. At least 1500 feet. At least.
Q: And do you know, are there any benefits to the local community? The landowners here are getting paid, and the community is getting paid– is it creating any jobs? We’re asking people questions on jobs because at the state level, they’re saying these kinds of developments are going to create jobs. Can you comment on that at all? Are they going to create any jobs for the local economy.
Kevin: They said they were going to hire a couple of people to service them.
Q: Local people?
Kevin: I don’t know. It would have to be specialized I guess. You would have to have some kind of training.
Ralph: They do hire some local contractors who come in and do the gravel work.
Q: So construction jobs.
Kevin: In the construction phase there’s lots of jobs. There were at least two hundred people worked on it or better.
Ralph. But it’s short term. Once it’s constructed now, [it’s over]. We would like to see it be more local. Because we have quarries right here. But they bypass them and they go to the big operators. The big construction outfits that they can get it cheaper with, you know?
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the access roads [to the turbines], how they’re put in and what they look like and what they’ve done to the farm fields?
Kevin: They put 90 feet of culvert in, and put (breaker rock?) down and top over road gravel.
Q: And how much land area does that take up when they go in there? How many acres of land do these access drives take out of a typical farm field?
Ralph: I would say it’s pretty close to five acres per turbine.
Kevin: It depends on how far back in the field they go.
Ralph: And how many roads they go through the field with.
Q: Is that disrupting the farming activity for the local farmers here having their fields divided up?
Kevin: I would say yeah. I mean the general trend in farming is bigger and bigger, wider equipment, so you’re going have to be inefficient I guess when you’re farming smaller fields. Especially with GPS, we just adopted that last year, so you’re going have to go around stuff instead of in straight lines.
Q: As far as the contracts– you were offered to sign a contract. What was your thought about the context of the contract?
Ralph: Very one-sided. They’re in control of everything.
Q: So if you own a piece of property as a landowner and the developer comes in and you sign an agreement with them, do you have any control over where they’re going to put these access drives in or where they are going to place the turbines, or do you have any say-so?
Ralph: There it would depend on the company, I think. Because each company has different contracts. There are some companies that are a lot better at understanding, and work with the people. But the one we happen to have in this area I don’t think is very nice at all.
Kevin: Just a couple of farmers that we know they said they weren’t happy with where they put the stuff. They said there’s no leeway in where they can put it. So they either had to go along with it or that was the end of it.
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