Neighbors seek a role in crafting of wind energy ordinance for Whitley County citing safety concerns
Passing along highways in Belgium or even rural Pennsylvania, a field of windmills captures the imagination. The towering structures are appealing to the eye and with their ability to generate wind energy, a seemingly wasted resource that could be vital to communities – including Whitley County.
A company is currently interested in locating 166 windmills across a vast area of southern Whitley County and they’ve been conducting wind studies here for the past six months. In hopes of managing wind farm development in the community, the Whitley County Plan Commission is drafting an ordinance regarding such ventures. The first 166 windmills would constitute Phase I of the project with two additional phases planned.
“The Plan Commission is in the process of drafting a wind energy ordinance,” said Whitley County Commissioner Mike Schrader as he explained the issue to Whitley County Council members last Wednesday morning. “The ordinance involves roads, bridges, drains and other elements of the project.”
Schrader also shared residents concerns with the project – concerns that have become public following the Whitley County Plan Commission meeting on October 20 when scores of residents turned out to voice their opinions on the matter.
“I don’t know that they are so much opposed to the project,” Schrader said, “but they are concerned.”
Schrader told the council he believes the council may need to get involved in the project to ensure it is handled in a way that makes adjacent property owners happy, protects the county’s interests and enables room for economic development.
“We may need to expend some funds to make sure we protect the county, our infrastructure and what we’ve spent over the years,” Schrader said, adding that he and Whitley County Council president Kim Wheeler had been investigating the issue and talking with concerned neighbors.
“We want to be sure we have it right and that we have the input of the people who are not in favor of this,” Schrader added.
“The information that has been brought to the Plan Commission has been very vague,” Wheeler said. “It is time for us to draw back a little bit so this protects everybody.”
Wheeler added that he felt like the issues regarding wind mill farms in Whitley County have come up rather quickly and seem to be moving rapidly forward.
“It just seems like this hit the Plan Commission pretty quick,” Wheeler said. “We got our eyes opened up!”
The following day, on November 3, concerned residents in southern Whitley County met in a large barn in Washington Township to articulate their concerns and create a plan of action. Topping their concerns – the amount of distance between windmills and neighboring structures.
“We’re talking about something that will be taller than the Summit Bank Building,” said Mark Mynhier, who is a neighbor to property where the proposed project would be. The proposed draft of the ordinance calls for 1000 feet from the foundation of a house and the base of a windmill, but to Mynhier and others, it is just too close.
“We’re going to push for a much larger setback,” Mynhier said. “We need to work hard to keep the setbacks far enough away from houses that we cannot hear them or see the shadow flicker. Our goal should be not to work against the Commissioners, Council or the Plan Commission as adversaries.”
Mynhier believes that a resolution can be worked out with all interested parties: the county, the business wanting to put up windmills, landowners and neighboring landowners.
“We’re pushing for citizen partnership in creating this ordinance,” Mynhier added.
Other concerns residents have cited include a reported 10-40% reduction in property value, restrictions on what neighboring property owners can do now and in the future, potential health risks for those located near the wind far, what happens if the project fails and potential risks to neighboring properties.
Mynhier said he’s not opposed to alternative energy resources, but feels there is a lot to consider in this particular situation.
“I don’t like the fact that some of our energy comes from countries that hate us,” he said. “But, at the same time, I’ve never been a fan of doing something incorrectly just to do it.”
Stanley Crum, a physics teacher, is also concerned and he’s been constructive with his concerns, researching wind energy and all the factors involved. Crum said wind energy is a relatively new concept in the United States in the past decade, but has been around for more than 30 years in European countries. In three decades, European countries like England, France, Germany, Denmark and Holland have had more experience in safety and health standards associated with windmills. He said that instead of merely reviewing ordinances set up in the US, it would be worthwhile to look at windmill standards abroad to craft an ordinance that everyone can live with.
“We don’t have to invent wheels – we just need to find ones that are good enough,” Crum said. “If you can do this 100% correct, you protect residents, agriculture and the environmental impact. Let’s get it up front, deal with it professionally and get the studies done. Yes, this may impact the size and scope. We need to be a proper contributor (to this discussion) – not a motion, but knowledge as well.”
“If these go in, they’re in for 25 years,” said fellow opponent Larry Long. “That’s a whole generation for something everybody’s not in favor of.”
Long is particularly concerned about the potential health impacts of windmills when they are located too close to homes and residents. Long described a combination of symptoms he’s researched called “Wind Turbine Syndrome” which accounts for a variety of ailments reported by residents living within a two-mile radius of windmills in other communities. Such ailments include disturbed sleep ending in episode of waking with great alarm, sleep deprivation, headaches, pressure in the ears, pain in the ears and eyes, dizziness, nausea, sensations of movement in chest and abdomen, panic feelings, aggression, difficulty with concentration and memory. He said there are also impacts on animals reported as well, including unexplained death, failure to thrive, failure to produce, etc.
“When you listen to that list, (medical professionals) take all the things they see and put it under a title,” he said. “But, gee, you wouldn’t want any of (those symptoms) all the time.”
Regarding the impact on neighboring properties, residents are concerned by the potential drop in value for their property and the possibility that the existence of windmills so close to their homes would hurt their ability to build on in the future or for additional housing to be built anywhere in the vicinity in the future.
“Having a windmill 1000 feet from your foundation impacts your ability to use your land for other purposes,” Crum said. “It becomes a matter of how you slide that ruler around.”
“We just don’t want it so close,” a resident said. “If we wait until after the fact, it’s over,” another responded.
Some said they don’t want a windmill that close is because they’ve heard of broken blades flying 1900 feet away and ice being thrown off blades at 180 mph as far away as a mile. Others don’t want to see the flickering shadow created by the blades that is similar to a strobe light effect. Others don’t want to see the flashing red lights on top of them at night.
Crum and others say they wonder what the rush is in creating wind energy in Whitley County of all places? After all, he said, it’s not necessarily the ideal situation.
The community is much more densely populated that other areas where wind farms have been created – such as Dekalb County, Missouri, where the population density is 27 people per square mile with 100 windmills in the county. In Whitley County, the population density is 92 people per square mile and where a company wants to eventually place from 166 to 400 windmills.
By Crum’s calculations 166 towers with 1.5 million watt generators at 100% capacity would generate 249 million watts of electricity. Crum said, however, that research indicates this area is not viable for wind power and it would only be about 30% efficient here.
“So we’d maybe generate 80 million watts,” Crum said, adding that with a small generator, he could create that amount of energy on his own farm. “No one would even give a rip that it even existed on the back of my farm. It’s not all that big, so what’s the push to get it done? It must be a money flow from somewhere?”
If it comes down to money, many people stand to gain from this.
Federal dollars are available to wind energy companies who build wind farms. Wind energy firms will pay landowners from $7500-$8000 per windmill to construct them on their farms – and that amounts to $1.25-$1.33 million for those landowners who sign on to the project.
Even neighboring landowners may profit – with stipends paid out by wind energy companies to them as well.
“If they do this according to what they should do, there should be no problem,” a man said. “This is going to effect a lot of people.”
The ordinance is likely to be a topic of discussion at the next Whitley County Plan Commission meeting on November 17 at 7 p.m. in the Whitley County Government Center.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding