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What’s it like to live in a Wisconsin wind farm?

Wisconsin writer Lynda Barry has been interviewing wind farm residents for a book she is putting together that answers the question, “What’s it like to live in a Wisconsin wind farm?” She’s interviewed people from 20 households in both the Blue Sky/Green Field wind farm near the Town of Malone and also the Invenergy Forward Energy wind farm near the Town of Byron. Both wind farms have a setback of 1000 feet from non-participating homes.

This excerpt, from the up-coming book, is based on an interview conducted in late June of 2009:

Harvey and Rita Freund live in the north-central section of the Blue Sky/Green Field 88 turbine wind project. Their home is surrounded by turbines on all sides. The closest turbines appear to be approximately 1500 feet away, with about 11 more turbines within a 2640 foot range of their house.

They’ve lived in their farmhouse since 1962, raising six kids. They are grandparents and great-grandparents and their home is full of family photos.

They welcomed me with that Wisconsin mix of hospitality, friendliness and earthy humor that is one of my favorite things about people in our state. On the afternoon we spoke they were just a few weeks away from their 59th wedding anniversary.

Harvey greeted me from out in front of the house where he was greasing some machinery on a boat. He’s 79 years old, has bright blue eyes, and an easy, open smile. He tells me he’s hard of hearing so the turbine noise doesn’t bother him as much as it bothers his wife. But he is bothered by the disappearance of wildlife from the area since the turbines went on line.

Harvey says, “We used to have so many ducks and geese around. They’d come over there to the pond to mate, and nest.” Harvey says now the ducks are few and the geese seem to have abandoned their nests. There are fewer birds now than he’s seen in the last 35 years.

“And we always had bats. Lots of bats.” He says they’re gone too. “These last two nights I’ve only seen but one.”

He invites me inside to meet Rita.

Rita Freund is 77 years old. She has congestive heart failure and sits in a recliner with a walker near by. Her heart may not be in the best shape but her sense of humor is in top condition. She says, “When Harvey and me got married I told him, I’ll cook for the first fifty years, then you cook for the next fifty years, and then the next fifty years we’ll negotiate.”

She’s wearing a blue dress, which sets off alert blue eyes behind glasses. Her legs and ankles are swollen with the edema that typifies congestive heart failure, and her feet are resting on a towel. She has extreme difficulty getting around and is confined to an electronically adjustable recliner most of the day.

She spoke about severe shadow flicker from the turbines. “The first time it came in through the bathroom so bright and flashing I didn’t know what it was. I was hollering for Harvey because I thought the house was on fire.”

She says the flicker hits their house in the morning. It makes her feel sick and dizzy and she can’t shut it out. When asked what she does about it she says, “I just cover up my head with a blanket until it’s over.”

When asked how long the flicker lasts she says, “It lasts for quite a while. When the sun is out we get it every morning. Drives me crazy. They need to shut that turbine down.”

She says the flicker is terrible but her biggest complaint is the buzzing sound in her ears, which began soon after the turbines, went on line.

“It started off sounding like a Slinky going down the stairs, you know? Then it turned into a buzzing with a beat. And now my head just buzzes all the time.”

She has a history of stroke, and when she mentioned the buzzing to her doctor, he became concerned and recommended she get an MRI. She did and it showed no problems.

But the buzzing continued. She said, “It has three different sounds. One has a beat, like a drum, you know? Then that Slinky. Then that buzzing. It depends on the direction of the wind. I can be sitting here watching TV and inside my head it’s just buzzing away.”

She says a long-time neighbor from across the road also suffers from buzzing in her ears since the turbines went on line. One day they were visiting and talking about the turbine noise and shadow flicker and her neighbor says, “But it’s that buzzing in my ears that drives me up a wall.”

“I said, ‘me too’. That’s how we found out it wasn’t just me, we both had it.”

Her neighbor recently decided to move to the nearby town of Chilton because of the turbine troubles.

When asked if Harvey and Rita have complained to the wind company about the noise and shadow-flicker, Harvey shakes his head. He says he learned back when the mega-farms came in that complaining is useless.

“It don’t do no good,” he says, “I’m 79 years old. I have five maybe six years left. I ain’t going to spend it fighting the wind company.”