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Wind turbines churn up concern

CHILTON – Life near wind turbines is hell, a panel told about 500 at a forum Wednesday organized by residents worried that proposed wind farms would affect public health and property values.

“The noise produced by turbines is intolerable,” Kewaunee County homeowner Mike Washechek said. Washechek has lived about ¼ mile from a wind farm for the last seven years. “My wife thought the dryer was on and there was a tennis shoe in it.”

EcoEnergy LLC plans to build 49 two-megawatt turbines in the towns of Chilton and Rantoul. Midwest Wind Energy proposes a similar number for the towns of Stockbridge and Brothertown. EcoEnergy also is interested in developing a smaller project in Hilbert.

The intended turbines would stand about 400 feet tall, or three times the height of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans’ former headquarters on College Avenue in downtown Appleton. The We Energies’ turbines on U.S. 41 south of Fond du Lac are about 290 feet tall.

“Nobody really knew what was about to happen to our lives” before wind turbines went up on the mountain behind her home in Maine, Wendy Todd said. Her family has farmed the land around her home for about 100 years. “If you have a connection with your land, and these turbines go up, it will rip your heart out.”

Among Wednesday’s speakers was Nina Pierpont, a pediatrician from New York State who coined the term “wind turbine syndrome” to describe symptoms some wind turbine neighbors have reported, including headaches, dizziness, trouble sleeping and depression.

Calumet County’s wind ordinance requires 1,000 feet between a turbine and an occupied residence.

“I think 1,000 feet is a problem,” Pierpont said. She recommends a distance of at least 1½ miles between homes and turbines.

But in a telephone interview, Michael Vickerman, executive director of the “green” energy advocacy group Renew Wisconsin, said he has not seen any peer-reviewed studies to support Pierpont’s theory, nor has “wind turbine syndrome” come up in any of the contested proceedings before the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. Also, he said, Washechek’s problem is fairly atypical. His home is at a slightly lower elevation than the wind farm.

“Apparently, the sound collects in that bowl,” Vickerman said. Washechek was one of the plaintiffs in a case wind farm owner Wisconsin Public Service Corp. settled confidentially in 2004.

Vickerman believes most of the objections to wind turbines are aesthetic.

“A lot of this has to do with people’s attitudes,” he said. “They don’t like the looks of the turbines and come up with health and safety impacts.” Health and safety are among the few reasons local governments can restrict wind farm sites.

In late July, an appeals court cleared the way for Chicago-based Invenergy Wind to begin construction on the 200-megawatt Forward Energy wind farm in Dodge and Fond du Lac counties. An environmental group tried to block the project because of its proximity to the Horicon Marsh.

Calumet County’s Planning and Zoning Committee was set to meet at 1 p.m. today to consider requested changes to its wind utility ordinance, including a 1,000-foot setback from property lines and requiring an environmental impact study.

“If every county in Wisconsin were to approve setbacks like that, there wouldn’t be any wind projects in Wisconsin,” Vickerman said.

City of Chilton resident Marcie Beyer said she went to Wednesday’s meeting more or less undecided. She left worried about the effect the proposed wind farms will have on public health, as well as the county’s rural landscape.

“I’m just not ready to lose the look of the land our grandfathers farmed,” she said. “We already have too many houses going up on the farmland. And now these wind turbines?”

By Susan Squires
Post-Crescent staff writer

Appleton Post-Crescent

2 August 2007