The Freeport chapter of the League of Women Voters hosted an event in March of this year featuring advocates and energy company representatives, at which “renewable” energy options were discussed. I did not attend, but the Journal-Standard article reporting on it offered up several concepts, some of which I find intriguing.
The idea of siphoning methane gas from the Freeport landfill to be used by nearby manufacturing plants to meet energy needs appears to hold some promise. Methane digesters converting manure to electricity makes sense. These involve pre-existing facilities as generating stations. Apparently the equipment used in these processes is and would be unobtrusive. And, I daresay, would be considerably more efficient than a 400-foot tall, 286-foot wide wind turbine that operates at only 25 percent efficiency.
Now for the disturbing bits. The renewable energy field experts on the panel that evening were present to offer their views on the future of “green energy.” Mr. Slaymaker, a representative of a wind turbine project builder/operator, claimed that those who object to wind turbines need only to be “educated” to turn them to the wind side.
I, my wife, and dozens of other Stephenson County citizens who oppose the wind turbine project proposed for Lancaster Township have spent the past six months “educating” ourselves and the only thing that’s turning is our stomachs. Many of us have visited existing wind turbine sites in Paw Paw, Crescent Ridge, Sublette, and Twin Groves in Illinois and Montfort in Wisconsin. Our education includes standing in the long, long shadows of these machines – watching as the giant shadows of the three spinning blades flash across the ground and nearby buildings, and imagining our lives spent under such conditions. We have stood beneath them. We have stood more than 2,000 feet from them. And we have heard them. Not once have I been near a turbine and heard nothing, and I have been to all of the above sites. Where is the silence that some claim will make turbines such a welcome addition to our lives?
We have learned that by 2030, even after building thousands and thousands of additional turbines in the next 23 years, wind will generate only 0.9 percent, up from a whopping 0.4 percent today, of this country’s electricity while total demand will increase by 41 percent. (U.S. Dept. Of Energy’s “Annual Energy Outlook 2007″ report published in Feb. 2007.) We have learned that less than 3.0 percent of electricity generated in this country is produced by oil-fired power plants, and that the U.S. “exports” more oil than it burns to make electricity.
And so, we have learned that wind turbines will have no effect on foreign oil dependence. We have learned that Navitas, the foreign-owned company that has proposed the Lancaster project and that sold itself to the Stephenson County Board as committed to building and retaining ownership of the project once built until the turbines come down, has sold three of its wind turbine projects since June 2005.
We have learned that Navitas is not so much a builder/operator of wind turbine projects as it is, in the words of Navitas project manager Barry Fladeboe, “more of a project developer.” We have learned that perhaps Navitas is not as forthcoming with the truth as they could be.
We have learned, that in their eagerness to attract these wind turbines, the Stephenson County Board passed an ordinance in 2003 allowing one of these 400-foot tall, 286-foot wide machines to be built within 500 feet of your house. We have learned that Navitas and EcoEnergy, Mr. Slaymaker’s company, will pocket some $80 million in direct federal tax credits for these projects, unless Navitas sells of course.
Federal tax credits that will come “out” of our pockets. We have learned that these machines will cast shadows along the ground equal to eight times their height. We have learned that these shadows will blanket our homes and our properties for hours each day the sun shines. We have learned that the flashing shadows created by the 143-foot long spinning blades will invade our field of vision every clear day from sunup to sunset.
And finally on May 9, when that same County Board voted 14 to 6 to eliminate a homeowner protection plan, we learned that our elected officials of Stephenson County consider it their duty to protect themselves from us, their constituents. On Nov. 30, 2006, the County Board voted to approve the special-use permits needed to build turbines in Lancaster Township and Waddams Grove, ignoring votes by the Zoning Board of Appeals of 3-1 and 2-2, respectively, recommending that these permits be denied. As part of their decision that night, the board required that certain conditions be met before any turbines could actually be built. Condition number three states that a “property value protection plan,” developed by the County Zoning Administrator, be established that “will guarantee that non-participating landowners who live in residences in the immediate vicinity will suffer no loss as a consequence of its proximity to such turbines.” The Board now claims that this “protection” plan was intended to protect itself from the very people it serves. By its own admission, the County Board fears that it will be forced to protect the citizens of Stephenson County whenever those citizens feel threatened by new development.
And so, we have learned that if the County Board feels obligated to get their arms around anything, it will not likely be its constituents. Rather they will choose to embrace the developers, of the wind turbine power plants in this case, who present a real threat to the future of many, many Stephenson County residents.
I will live, if the Lancaster project is built, with one turbine less than 1,300 feet from my home, two of them within 1,900 feet of my home, and one more within 3,000 feet of my home. Not the edge of my yard, but the walls of my house. Many other residents within this proposed project, dozens of whom reject them, face the same future and worse. A member of the League in attendance that night stated that wind turbines are the wave of the future and that we must make them a part of the community. The scope of community as defined by these wind turbines is, for now, only two sections of Stephenson County. The true “wind farm” community will not include the 26,000 who live in Freeport, or the 3,000 who live in Lena, or the 800 who live in Pearl City.
The true “wind farm” community will include me and all the others who will be forced to live in the footprint of these power plants, and who reject them.
When I see the SUVs parked at Cub Foods, ShopKo, and Kmart while their owners run in for a gallon of milk or a package of tube socks, when I see the SUVs pull up to the drive-up windows at McDonalds, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell, I feel ever more isolated from the community that will not spend the next 20 years and more living, as I will, in an environment that I find repulsive. And for what? A measly 0.5 percent increase in electricity generation capacity? The only true solution to our energy crisis is “conservation.”
But that requires sacrifice by all of us, and it is so much easier to demand it of a few of us.
Still I, and the others who believe as I do, reach out to that community from which we feel further and further removed by this issue. Hoping some of you out there recognize that not wanting to look at a giant machine out your kitchen window does have value, that it does count for something.
Hoping that some of you out there will agree that living in the very real shadows of these things is not an environment you would choose for yourselves. Hoping that some of you out there acknowledge that our concern of profound property value loss is legitimate. Hoping that some of you out there will support us in our struggle to keep these things out of our lives today, and your lives tomorrow. Hoping that as a true community, all of you out there recognize that this sacrifice expected of a few of us for such little gain is patently unfair. Hoping that you join us at www.lancastervoices.com.
By Mike King
19 May 2007
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