Farmers considering whether to install a wind turbine to generate electricity likely will face prohibitive county laws and opposition from area residents, a wind energy expert said.
With a few exceptions, “if there has been controversy in your neighborhood about a wind farm, people are not going to let you put up a 100-foot tower,” said Jenny Heinzen, an instructor specializing in wind turbines at Lakeshore Technical College.
“Hopefully people recognize that small wind turbines for individual use and domestically-produced energy is different than a commercial wind farm,” she said.
But Manitowoc County’s wind turbine ordinance contains turbine setback requirements that are so restrictive that the code might prohibit any county resident from installing a turbine, Heinzen said.
In addition, wind energy opponents have been successful at thwarting projects through local government and are gaining strength, she said.
Heinzen’s comments were part of the Myths of Energy Summit II: Agriculture Energy Solutions held Thursday at LTC.
Farmers, engineers and others in agriculture heard experts discuss the advantages and disadvantages of wind turbines, manure digesters, solar panels and other energy-efficient technology.
Marcus Vogel, 47, of Vogel Family Farms, located just outside Manitowoc, said he and his brother have discussed installing a wind turbine on their farm. Vogel said his farm’s electricity bill ranges between $3,000 to $4,000 a month.
“Where I think the turbine would work best is in an open field, but we do have neighbors and we’ve had neighbor issues already,” said Vogel, noting that he has experienced confrontations while working on farms.
But Vogel said he believes the next decade in agriculture will be “exciting” because of technological advances that have led to more efficient energy sources.
Vogel said he plans to take another look at anaerobic manure digesters after hearing Dr. Kenn Buelow describe how Holsum Dairy, Buelow’s 3,600-cow operation in Hilbert, overcame initial problems with a modified digester system.
“I think this energy crunch is not all bad,” he said. “It’s making us more aware of what we are doing with our environment and our resources.””
Small wind turbines, which typically are 100 kilowatts or less and 170 feet in height or smaller, can range in price from $20,000 to $70,000, Heinzen said. However, numerous grants and incentives are available to property owners who wish to install a wind turbine.
But owners should not expect a return on their investment for 10 years or longer after installing a turbine, she said.
Heinzen also said the county’s ordinance makes it mathematically impossible to install a turbine on fewer than 92 acres, barring neighbor-approved variances.
Heinzen said some residents are afraid installing a wind turbine on their property would “ruin their relationship with their neighbors.”
She said it would take a property owner willing to fight the ordinance in court after being denied a project to change the county law. But most property owners aren’t willing to take the risk, she said.
Critics of wind turbines such as Wisconsin Independent Citizens Opposing Windturbine Sites (WINDCOWS) have cited concerns that turbines near their property diminish their property values. They also contend that turbines have unresolved health and safety issues that could put residents in danger.
Heinzen said a bill in the state Legislature last year to establish a statewide ordinance for small wind turbines died. She said another effort to create a statewide law is expected in the next legislative session.
In May 2007, Emerging Energies LLP, of Hubertus, filed a civil lawsuit against Manitowoc County arguing that portions of the county’s ordinance regulating the construction of large wind turbine farms has made the company’s project “cost-prohibitive” and prevents the project from advancing.
The company is asking a judge to void 18 requirements in the ordinance because “they do not allow for an alternative (energy) system of comparable cost and efficiency.”
Emerging Energies is proposing a seven-turbine wind farm in the town of Mishicot. The plan has been met with criticism, and in April 2007 the project was derailed after an opposition group won a civil suit filed to void a county conditional use permit granted to Emerging Energies.
The company filed its permit application in April 2005. A year later, the Manitowoc County Board approved an updated ordinance that took effect in May 2006.
Emerging Energies’ permit was granted in July 2006, using the ordinance in place when the application was submitted.
By Kristopher Wenn
Gannett Wisconsin Media
25 April 2008
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