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Controversy is blowing in the wind

There is no mistaking where Bill Welty stands – the signs at the end of his driveway say it all – “No Wind Farms.”

The placards at the edge of Welty’s Chana Road property, just south of state Route 64 in rural Ogle County, also feature a turbine circled in red, a line slashing through the middle.

When he and his wife, Judy, moved from suburban Chicago three years ago to retire on Judy’s parents’ family farm, they came to enjoy their 230 acres of unspoiled prairie landscape.

Now, with two separate wind-energy companies eyeing the county’s rolling ridge lines, they face the prospect of 50 to 100 wind towers sprouting up all around them – ugly, noisy, bad-for-your health wind towers, Welty says.

“They are an eyesore and a freakish-looking thing to look at on the horizon. I don’t really want to look at them,” he said.

Navitas Energy and EcoEnergy each are considering building 50-turbine wind farms in Pine Rock, White Rock, Scott and Marian townships. Both companies are in the early phases of talking with area landowners and the Ogle County Board about erecting the 400-foot-tall towers.

Navitas project manager Wanda Davies said its wind farm would encompass 4,000 to 5,000 acres of land.

The Weltys plan to fight the towers every step of the way, and are trying to enlist neighbors and other area landowners.

They worry that the towers will hurt property values, and that farmers who agree to rent space for them may come to regret the decision.

“I have already recruited six to eight landowners to go out trying to convey why we should not support the wind farm,” Welty said.

He cites one study in particular, completed in March 2006 by Nina Pierpont, a New York doctor who studied the health effects of living near wind towers.

Pierpont recommends towers not be built within a mile and a half of homes or businesses because of the noise they can make, especially at night.

She references a study conducted in 2005 by Oguz Soysal, a Frostburg University professor of physics and engineering in Maryland.

Soysal recorded decibel levels as high as 65 to 70 emanating from a 20-tower wind farm in Pennsylvania. That’s equivalent to the sound of a washing machine or vacuum cleaner.

“Wind farms are still fairly new in America, and there is some documentation of negative health impacts,” Welty said.

Wind developers dispute those claims.

“The more wind farms there are, the more people realize these are not that big a thing,” Davies said. “In Denmark, turbines are as common as silos, and people are quite used to them.”

Modern towers are much quieter than previous models and pose no more of a threat to wildlife than any other tall structure, she said.

Roger Brown, program manager for the Illinois Institute on Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University, agrees.

Brown, who has consulted on several wind farm projects, has heard concerns like the Weltys’ before.

Although wind towers may make some noise, it is hardly enough to be obtrusive, he said.

“I have been in wind farms where, as the wind picks up, you may get a little whistle. They do create some disturbance, yes, but will you hear it at a half mile distance? Probably not,” Brown said.

He said he is not familiar with any credible studies that link wind farms to any medical conditions.

“There are a lot of things said at zoning meetings that are never substantiated. To me, it is all about the data,” Brown said.

“The easiest thing is to have people go out and experience it themselves.”

Gene Leffelman, a Sublette-area farmer, embraced wind technology five years ago, when Navitas first began looking to develop the Mendota Hills project, a 63-tower wind farm completed in 2003. He has five towers standing in his fields.

When GSG Wind Energy, a local development group, came looking for landowners from whom to rent, Leffelman jumped on the bandwagon.

“This is the future. They have been doing wind out in California for years,” Leffelman said.

Although some of his neighbors had concerns about wind turbines early on, detractors faded away one by one as more information came out, he said.

“There was kind of some hesitation at the beginning of the development five years ago,” Leffelman said. “Now I think a lot of these people wish they signed contracts as well.”

Although he supports wind energy and doesn’t find the towers distracting, Leffelman said the biggest factor in his support of wind is the revenue stream it produces.

“My biggest concern is the tax revenue the company is bringing to the school and the county,” Leffelman said.

Navitas Energy’s Mendota Hills development has added $350,000 to county coffers, said Wendy Ryerson, Lee County supervisor of assessments.

And complaints that wind farms will hurt land values hasn’t proven true in Lee County, she said.

“We have a subdivision a mile and a half from Mendota Hills, so the towers are right in their sight, and those houses have sold above pre-development levels,” Ryerson said.

Before Navitas started putting up wind towers, only two of the 11 lots in the Brookmeadow subdivision near Sublette had sold. Since the towers started going up, all 11 have sold, and nine either have houses or have houses under construction, she said.

Meanwhile, landowners like Leffelman are reaping about $6,000 a year in rent, per tower. In exchange, they give up about an acre and a half of farmland for each tower and an access road.

For the Weltys, though, it’s more than just dollars and cents.

“We don’t want our landscape to be turned into an industrial freak show,” Welty said.

They will protest the wind developments when they come up at the county board, and will consider legal action if necessary, he said.

“If we fail to keep the towers out of here, we hope to get bigger setbacks from property lines through zoning.”

They are bracing for a long fight, and expect more wind-farm developers to target Ogle County.

“If we are successful, our fight ain’t over yet. There is going to be another one and another one,” Welty said.

The numbers

Navitas Wind Energy is considering building a wind farm in rural Ogle County. It would:

* Generate 100 megawatts of power a year.

* Have 50 400-foot-tall, two-megawatt towers.

* Sit on 4,000 to 5,000 acres of land.

By Andrew Walters
SVS Reporter


22 July 2007