Just south of the Door County line in neighboring Kewaunee County, 31 commercial wind turbines soar above agricultural land in the small townships of Red River and Lincoln.
The turbines, owned by Madison Gas and Electric and Wisconsin Public Service, harness enough energy to power about 5,000 households – the equivalent of 40,000 tons of coal per year.
The turbines also generated a commensurate amount of controversy when they were proposed and then constructed in 1999.
The issues that divided the Kewaunee County neighbors echoed those fought in other wind energy battles across the United States, where approximately 11,700 wind turbines exist.
The nonpolluting, renewable energy source supplements the power grid and eases reliance on fossil fuels and their toxic, globally damaging byproducts, proponents say.
Health and safety issues are primary for opponents, who say the noise and the flickering shadows caused by the long, sweeping blades can be damaging to those who live close to the turbines.
Red River and Lincoln townships property owners who lease their land to the utilities for the wind turbines said scars still remain from that time when neighbors were pitted against each other.
Lawsuits were filed and settled. Some are still pending.
But the property owners who signed the long-term leases with the utilities don’t regret their decisions.
“When the land agent contacted us, we had no hesitation,” Debbie Guilette said. “People say we did it for the money. No. Sometimes, you just feel when you know it’s the right thing to do. We need to take responsibility for our environment even if it’s in just one small way.”
“I really like them,” said Rock LeFevre. “I look at them everyday to see which direction the wind is blowing. I think they’re a good thing.”
Madison Gas and Electric leases land from Rock and Lisa LeFevre for four of its Red River turbines, and from Allen and Debbie Guilette for one of its Lincoln turbines.
The LeFevres and Guilettes crop right up to the base of the turbines. On rare occasions when crop damage occurs during maintenance of the turbines, they bill Madison Gas and Electric and the utility sends a check.
The whoosh of the rotating blades is audible above the agricultural fields, but neither the LeFevres nor the Guilettes hear it.
“It’s comparable to someone living near a highway or freeway,” Rock said. “You get so used to it, you don’t hear it anymore.”
Approaching 300 feet in height, the turbines are obviously noticeable. But not, for the Guilettes, as blights upon the landscape.
“I’ve seen them when a thunderstorm comes rolling in and you see the stark white against the dark clouds,” Debbie said. “I see them on foggy mornings when only the tip of the blades come out of the fog.”
The shadows cast by the blades – called “shadow flicker” or strobing – “can be annoying,” Rock said.
“I’m in the middle of them, with some to the east and west, so when the sun comes up, it flickers in our house toward the west, and opposite at night,” Rock said. “If it’s too bad, we draw the curtain on that side.”
Of all the problems people say the turbines create, Debbie said the shadow flicker is “the most legitimate,” but can be avoided by proper placement with respect to the homes.
“Our life has not changed because we have a wind turbine 800 feet away,” Debbie said. “They have become a part of our background, our environment.”
In Door County, the wind energy debate is just beginning to take shape.
Community Wind Energy LLC, formed by year-round, Door County residents, wants to get local wind power on the grid through small clusters of large commercial wind turbines.
In response, Door County began revising its Wind Energy Systems ordinance in March. The ordinance had been on the books since 1999, but no permits have ever been pulled.
A public hearing for those revisions will take place Oct. 4 before the Door County Resource Planning Committee.
At that meeting, people on both sides of the issue will be invited, for the first time, to express in a public setting their opinions on the ordinance.
Jeanne Dimick-Rego, for one, plans to attend.
The Clay Banks resident lives about six-tenths of a mile from where two of the CWE turbines were being considered.
Dimick-Rego and others reacted by drafting a petition. They collected signatures from 222 Clay Banks property owners out of a town with a total 414 residents.
“Our group is not opposed to wind energy,” Dimick-Rego said. “We do have concerns about the negative side effects” – primarily noise and shadow flicker, she said.
To mitigate those side effects, she said, the group is advocating “safe setbacks.”
For example, 23 homes would be located within three quarters of a mile from where CWE was considering the two Clay Banks turbines.
“That’s just too dense,” Dimick-Rego said. “We want one and a half miles for a setback. I don’t believe we’ll ultimately get that, but there needs to be some middle ground.”
By Deb Fitzgerald
Door county Advocate
29 September 2007
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding