BLISSFIELD, Mich. – Not in My Back Yard.
For years, it’s been a phrase linked to debates over where to build nuclear power plants, steel plants, auto plants, coal-fired power plants, refineries, paint shops, coking facilities, and hazardous waste dumps – virtually anything people shudder at the thought of living near, even if they acknowledge it’s a trade-off for maintaining modern life.
Now, with the wind industry booming, there’s a new era of the NIMBY phenomenon. And it’s one in which the opposition isn’t pollution-based but encompasses anything from aesthetics to wildlife to property values to insomnia.
The wind industry produces 2 percent of the nation’s electricity. But it is growing so fast, in part because of government incentives, that it predicts that by 2030, wind will supply 20 percent of America’s power, the equivalent of what nuclear power produces. That has people from Maine to California envisioning thousands of more wind turbines across America’s idyllic countrysides and shorelines.
To some, those huge rotating blades are an adrenalin rush, a symbol of how the nation is finally pursuing more energy independence. To others, they are visual clutter, eyesores not worth the investment.
For a taste of such controversy, look no farther than two areas about an hour’s drive west of Toledo, where multideveloper projects could lead to the area’s first utility-scale wind farms.
Three developers – Juwi Wind LLC, Great Lakes Wind LLC, and Orisol Energy US, Inc. – are making plans to erect some 200 turbines across the flat, rural landscape of Riga, Ogden, Palmyra, and Fairfield townships in southeastern Lenawee County. They could generate 400 megawatts of capacity at full power, less than half the 905 megawatts of electricity produced by FirstEnergy Corp.’s Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Oak Harbor at full capacity.
Plans also are under way to erect as many as 535 utility-scale wind turbines in western Ohio, near the Indiana state line. According to the Ohio Power Siting Board, those projects are at various stages of development in Paulding, Van Wert, and Hardin counties.
Nearly 250 people from southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio converged on Blissfield Middle School Saturday for a seminar sponsored by the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition, Inc., a group formed in opposition to the Lenawee County projects.
For about seven hours, speakers presented what they consider to be the downside of wind power – an underbelly they believe may be overlooked as public officials push for more renewable power.
Issues range from shadow flickering to noise to lowered property values, they said.
“Our politicians are trying to pound square pegs into round holes,” said Tom Stacy, a critic of the wind industry who lives in Logan County and belongs to the national energy policy committee of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Rob Rand, an acoustics consultant from Maine who belongs to the Institute of Noise Control Engineering, told the crowd to be wary of the steady noise generated by the big machines.
People who live in the country “have this innate understanding of their quality of life” and need to understand how that could be changed by such large-scale projects, Mr. Rand said.
Many turbines under consideration in Lenawee County are Danish-built Vestas V100 models that stand 493 feet tall. That is 80 feet taller than downtown Toledo’s highest building and 25 percent taller than the four turbines American Municipal Power installed in the Wood County landfill southwest of Bowling Green in 2003 and 2004.
One couple who spoke, Dave and Stephanie Hulthen, said they got up well before sunrise Saturday and drove five hours from their house in DeKalb County, Ill. so they could describe their experiences. Their house has 13 wind turbines within a mile of it, including two about 1,400 feet away.
The Hulthens said they have had sleepless nights because of noise and vibrations, with the large turbine blades casting annoying strobelike shadow flickers through their windows on sunny mornings.
“We can feel it in our bodies and feet when the turbines are on,” Mrs. Hulthen said.
The couple, parents of four young children, fear the value of their property is on the decline and their ability to enjoy peace and quiet is gone. The turbines have made anything from humming to whistling to ice-grinding sounds, Mr. Hulthen said.
“I feel like I moved into an industrial park,” he said. “How many different things am I supposed to swallow in the name of green?”
But wind power is now America’s fastest-growing form of energy.
Some feel its growth has been buoyed largely by new laws that require Michigan, Ohio, and many other states to boost their percentages of electricity generated by clean sources.
Ohio requires 12.5 percent to come from renewable sources by 2025, although it has encouraged nuclear, coal, and other traditional forms of power generation to come up with more advanced techniques so that as much as 25 percent of the state’s electricity could come from nonconventional means.
Denise Bode, the Washington-based American Wind Energy Association’s chief executive officer, told The Blade in a recent telephone interview that’s largely because a majority of Americans want a greater investment in clean, renewable power.
Ms. Bode agreed many of the issues can be resolved with proper siting.
“The sound of the wind turbine is no louder than if you were standing next to your dishwasher,” she said.
Peter Endres, Juwi’s director of project development, said last month he believes Lenawee County has generally shown “pretty strong support” for the projects there.
He agreed with Ms. Bode that many of the issues raised have been played out in other parts of the country.
Peter Kelley, American Wind Energy Association vice president of public affairs, said recently that greater scrutiny is an inevitable trade-off for industries that experience rapid growth.
The association believes the support for wind energy is so strong that the NIMBY phenomenon is being displaced by one called YIMBY – those who say “Yes In My Back Yard” to help stimulate the growth and development of clean energy sources. The YIMBY phrase has even found its way into Wikipedia, a popular online dictionary that is developed and maintained largely by its own Internet users.
As the debate intensifies, the battle lines that have been drawn over property values will likely come more into play, officials said.
Pro and anti-wind factions now are presenting studies that contradict each others’ claims while conceding the crash of the housing market nationally complicates that issue.
Michael McCann, a certified real estate appraiser from Chicago who has testified as an expert witness on various land issues in 21 states and has been studying the impact of industrial wind farms since 2005, reminded those in attendance at Blissfield Middle School that millions of dollars in housing values are at stake nationally.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are now more than 35 states with commercial-scale wind turbines.
Texas by far has the most, with several Great Plains states also embracing mammoth projects.
The most high-profile wind-opposition case so far is the one that has ironically pitted America’s most famous family of liberals, the Kennedys, against a company putting up 130 turbines on Nantucket Sound in Massachusetts.
The $2 billion Cape Wind project, the nation’s first fully permitted offshore wind farm, crossed its final permitting hurdle Jan. 7 with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For more than eight years, the Kennedys objected because they believe the turbines will mar their view from the family’s compound at Hyannis Port.