Ron Reimer doesn’t want to live in the shadows of wind turbines.
The 61-year-old organic farmer and photographer from Ettrick, Wis., fears the potential health effects of the rhythmic swooshing of turbine blades and the shadows they might cast over his home.
Reimer considers himself a progressive. He has protested a nuclear power plant in Durand, Wis., mining, the Vietnam War. Now he’s against industrial wind energy.
He calls himself an environmentalist and an advocate of community-supported wind. Other people call him a radical who supports wind energy as long as it’s not in his backyard.
Reimer’s anti-wind reasoning could be considered farfetched, but he’s hardly alone in his battle against the wind. Everywhere there’s a wind turbine or proposed wind development, there’s a clone-able faction of citizens just like him.
“This side needs to be heard,” Reimer said. “I feel it’s almost being suppressed.”
Reimer and about 30 others who call themselves Concerned Citizens of Trempealeau County are another example of wind action groups like the War Against Wind group in Osterville, Mass., Protect the Flint Hills in Kansas, We Oppose Wind Farms in New York and Wind Cows in Wisconsin.
Wind energy has become a divisive issue for Trempealeau County’s residents over the past 14 months. The county board will vote Monday on a third draft of a wind ordinance they’ve been wrestling with since investment group AgWind Energy Partners approached the board in September 2006 with a request to look at three potential sites to build four to six turbines.
The proposed ordinance is stricter than the previous two. It would require turbines to be at least a mile from all habitable structures and a half-mile from property lines. Among more than 30 other restrictions is a requirement that the noise from the turbines can’t exceed 40 decibels when measured at any residence.
AgWind managing director Jim Naleid called it unreasonable, unnecessary and “overkill beyond words” from the state’s model ordinance. While there is a clause for mitigation with neighbors within the one-mile setback, Naleid said it would delay construction and increase costs.
“It results in saying there will be no wind development in Trempealeau County, and that relates to commercial and personal,” Naleid said. “They may say they’re promoting small wind but the restrictions they put in place – they wipe it out.”
Though wind energy is embraced as a renewable source of energy that doesn’t create greenhouse gasses, Reimer said the popular perception is distorted.
“This is much more than people upset about looking at wind towers,” he said.
Wind energy is profit-driven, not environmental, he said. It benefits developers, utilities, manufacturers, government and landowners, Reimer said. Not those who live near the turbines.
He calls it corporate “greenwashing.”
He believes wind energy will increase the use of fossil fuels because turbines don’t always run at peak capacity, and electricity can’t be stored. An auxiliary coal generator would have to run on stand-by all the time, creating mercury and carbon dioxide pollution.
Turbines generally produce about 20 to 40 percent of their peak capacity. Reimer questions why people would buy anything that would works only 40 percent of the time?
“It’s environmentally insane,” Reimer said. “It’s wasting more fuel than saving. Utilities love it.”
Reimer believes large-scale wind turbines are a defilement of the environment and a distraction from what people need to do to conserve. He prefers alternative energy saving tactics like solar cells, mass transit and hobbyist wind generation.
The debate is not whether there should be wind turbines, Reimer said. The issue is how big, where, and who benefits.
“I don’t really mind being called a NIMBY or having one put in my back yard, but not for 2,300 other people,” Reimer said. “I’m willing to do my share but not everybody else’s share.”
Reimer is convinced there are negative health impacts to those living close to wind turbines from low-frequency noise and shadow flicker from the spinning blades. He thinks it could cause developmental issues with children and it could contaminate ground water.
Reimer doesn’t trust sources like American Wind Energy Association. He relies on the Web sites of groups like American Wind Energy Opposition and National Wind Watch. He believes the horror stories he reads online from residents who live near wind turbines and the low-frequency noise research done by New York pediatrician Nina Pierpont.
Wind advocates counter that Pierpont’s research is not peer-reviewed and many of those Web sites promote believing what you want to believe.
“He spewed misinformation from the get-go,” Naleid said. “Once Ron Reimer entered the fray and got people emotionally confused about the issue, we halted all engineering and planning since.”
Trempealeau County never gave wind a chance, Naleid said.
He charges that the county’s zoning director, Kevin Lein, stacked the committee that drafted the proposed ordinance with wind opponents.
Lein said the committee made recommendations based on health and safety aspects, not personal opinions.
Lein doesn’t think the ordinance would prevent wind development. “It does put an onus on it, and they’ll have to put in extra leg work,” he said, “but I think it’s still very doable.”
Only after paying everyone nearby “a million dollars” to waive the setbacks, said Ronn Winn, an AgWind partner and 40-year resident of Galesville, Wis.
Winn, a member of the committee that drafted the ordinance, said he felt like he went there with a “big target” on his back. The ordinance, if passed, takes away his right to free enterprise on his land, Winn said.
He doesn’t get where people like Reimer come from.
“He’s educated, he’s articulate, does some research. He’s a good thinker. Why? Is this a hippie hangover?” Winn said. “None of what he can say or what he’s said can be substantiated, but it doesn’t make any difference for him.”
Reimer said he studied electrical engineering and understands how the electrical grid works. He is a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Madison with an interdisciplinary degree in American institutions.
Reimer, who didn’t serve on the committee, said Trempealeau County’s ordinance should address quality of life and property rights. No one deserves to live next to something that sounds “like jumbo jets spinning above,” he said.
His major opposition is the possibility of the state stepping in and not allowing counties any say in where turbines will be built.
Reimer said people should ask questions. What’s really going to happen with wind turbines. What are the economic realities? Who benefits from it? Whose wind is it anyway?
“There’s no way to prove how far away these things are safe,” Reimer said. “No one wants to pay for the studies. Part of it is taking precautions and testimonies from people who know.”
By Amber Dulek
16 December 2007
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