Wind farm tour fails to satisfy Calumet County residents; Visit to similar layout leaves group concerned
TISKILWA, Ill. – Interrupted TV reception, according to the developer and a landowner, was neighbors’ primary gripe after the Crescent Ridge mega-wind farm went up in central Illinois in 2005.
“A lot of people seem to feel they’re not as bad as they thought they’d be,” Midwest Wind Energy President Stefan Noe told a group of Calumet County residents Saturday as they stood at the bases of windmills similar to those that may go up near their homes.
Midwest Wind and another developer, EcoEnergy, are prospecting sites for three projects in Calumet County, where wind speeds average 13 to 14 mph.
The 100 or so proposed 400-foot turbines would be the largest erected to date in Wisconsin. The still unbuilt windmills have ignited a battle over property rights – mostly between farmers and neighboring residential property owners.
Some of the 100 people who endured Saturday’s 14-hour, mishap-plagued bus trip from Chilton to Tiskilwa, however, left as skeptical about life near wind turbines as they were when they arrived. Tiskilwa has fewer pockets of residential development than Calumet County.
“It just seems like this is a perfect place for a wind farm, in big, open spaces,” Town of Chilton resident Sandy Popp said. “In this project, there aren’t many nonparticipating land owners, and I think that makes a huge difference. In our county, there will be hundreds of people who will not be participating who will be relatively close.”
Saturday’s road trip was the environmental organization Clean Wisconsin’s effort to temper the controversy. The nonprofit group organized and paid for the trip, which cost about $5,000.
“We believe that renewable energy is one piece of the solution in how we can provide for our energy needs in a clean and sustainable way,” Clean Wisconsin’s energy program director Katie Nekola said. “We also believe there’s a lot of misinformation out there about wind power and we wanted to offer Calumet County residents a chance to see for themselves and make up their own minds.”
Crescent Ridge was the first, 33-turbine phase of a larger project. Phase two is under construction. Farmers Jim and Laura Albrecht are landlords involved in both. Jim Albrecht urged Calumet County farmers to drive a hard bargain with wind farm developers.
“You have a right to demand what you want,” he said. “That contract is going to last you for 40 years. It’s your only protection.”
The Albrechts’ drainage tile system was damaged during construction of the first phase, Albrecht said, and they had trouble getting satisfaction from a contractor in California. For the second phase, the farmers insisted on a local contractor.
Neighbors also found the turbines interfered with off-air television reception. Midwest Wind bought them satellite dishes.
“Really, that was the only thing that came to be a problem,” Noe said.
The Albrechts actually live about four miles from Crescent Ridge, but Jim Albrecht’s mother lives within about 1,300 feet of a turbine and close to several others. She has no complaints, Albrecht said, but, he admitted, she’s 90 and doesn’t hear like she used to.
At about 600 feet from a turbine, however, The Post-Crescent’s digital tape recorder didn’t register its sound. The wind drowned it out.
Three buses left the Calumet County courthouse at about 7:30 a.m. and returned at 10 p.m. – about three hours later than expected.
An anticipated tour of We Energies’ Blue Sky Green Field wind farm construction site in Fond du Lac County fell apart amid concerns 100 people wandering around might create liability problems. Later, the lead bus missed the road to Crescent Ridge and the entire caravan was lost for about 45 minutes.
Nevertheless, the trip was almost everything County Board Chairman Merlin Gentz hoped for.
“The sun was shining brightly and we could see them from different angles and I was looking for the flicker and the shadows they might cast, and I was rather impressed by the lack of all that,” said Gentz, who has convened a special committee to study turbines’ potential effects on human health.
He also found them to be remarkably quiet.
“I went out there with the attitude, ‘What would it be like if my house was right out here and I was within 1,000 feet of those turbines?’ I came away from there saying I wouldn’t mind that.”
Gentz’s committee is expected to make a recommendation to the County Board in January.
Popp, who is a member of the committee, is fairly sure, however, she would mind listening to the turbines’ perpetual “whoosh.”
“It wasn’t extremely loud or anything,” Popp said, “but I did think if I was at home and I lived out in the country, I know the constant sound would get to me. It’s not like when the wind dies down and then blows. This is just constant. I think it would bother me.”
By Susan Squires
Post-Crescent staff writer
7 November 2007
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