If anyone had to ask Gerry Meyer for permission to install a wind turbine 1,560 feet from his house, it isn’t clear he’d have said no.
“At one time, I supported this, because I didn’t know any better,” said Meyer, who lives amid the 86-turbine wind farm south of Fond du Lac, near Brownsville. “I was naive.”
But no one had to ask Meyer anything. As turbines and their neighbors are back in the news, with wind proponents saying Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed change to siting rules will kill wind power in Wisconsin, one thing is becoming clear: Wind backers aren’t doing enough asking or listening to neighbors.
Neighbors are listening, whether they want to or not, to the turbines. Builders say they’re quiet, and Meyer said he believed that – until he stepped outside and looked up for the jet flying over. It was the new turbine nearby. Depending on wind and humidity, any of the five turbines within a mile of his house obtrude on the quiet, whining or thumping “like boots in the dryer.”
Within weeks, his wife and son started having chronic headaches. His wife now suffers constant ringing in her ears. It vanished on vacation. Meyer no longer sleeps much – “The only time I dream is when we go to our cabin,” he said – and he says his blood chemistry’s now a mess. His cortisol returned to normal, and he lost 21 excess pounds when the turbines were off for three weeks. “That should raise a red flag,” he said.
A mail carrier, Meyer talks of dogs grown surly and neighbors who have abandoned farms. One neighbor, Larry Wunsch, 1,100 feet from a turbine, cites “shadow flicker,” when sunlight shines through the blades. “It looks like someone is turning the lights on and off,” he said. The state “says you should be able to put up with that for 40 hours a year.” He can’t. He’s been trying to sell for more than a year.
Elsewhere near Fond du Lac, turbines’ neighbors mention the jet-like noise. “Sometimes it sounds like a racetrack or a plane landing,” Elizabeth Ebertz, 67, of St. Cloud, told the Wisconsin State Journal in August. “They’re just too close to people.” Allen Hass, 56, a Malone farmer, told the paper the rent he got for hosting a turbine couldn’t make up for headaches. “I wish I never made that deal,” he said.
Distance is at issue now that Walker proposes changing the uniform setback the state adopted last year. The Public Service Commission overrode stricter local rules, saying turbines had to be at least 1,250 feet from homes. Walker proposes 1,800 feet from property lines, a distance backers say will kill the wind industry. The existing standard is strict enough, says Denise Bode, head of the American Wind Energy Association, and changing it leaves little room for turbines.
Except Walker’s bill doesn’t say turbines must be 1,800 feet from anything – only that if they’re closer, the neighboring owner must grant permission.
Wind backers feel that’s not workable, says Keith Reopelle of Clean Wisconsin, a group favoring turbines. Neighbors would demand payment, “raising the price of wind power and making wind power less competitive,” he said.
Well, yes, neighbors do complicate things. So do lawsuits, like the one Clean Wisconsin joined to try stopping We Energies’ new low-pollution Oak Creek power plant; the settlement will raise your power bills by $100 million. There are lots of trade-offs in generating electricity, and wind is no exception.
The difference is that with wind, the burden falls heavily on people right next door. It lowers theirproperty value, it affects their health in ways not yet understood and it can be alleviated by paying neighbors for their trouble, a deal that Walker’s bill encourages.
But wind backers aren’t inclined to bargain or even acknowledge a problem. “We live with lots of noises,” such as from roads, said Reopelle. Bode, asked about complaints, replied, “There are always going to be some folks who don’t want development.”
Nothing wrong with development, said Meyer, “but what about our health?” The wind farm, he said, “has completely taken away our quality of life.” Of such complaints, wind’s proponents hear nothing.
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