Town of Merton – A room full of concerned residents and property owners showed up at a Feb. 8 Merton Town Board public information session about a recently constructed wind turbine at Camp Whitcomb-Mason.
Representatives from Seventh Generation, the wind turbine’s manufacturer, were on hand to answer residents’ questions and address concerns after giving a presentation about the turbine and the effect of its operations on the surrounding area.
Residents can do little to affect the wind turbine, which went into operation on the day of the meeting, now that it is up and functioning; but they asked the Town Board to draft an ordinance governing future wind turbine projects in the town. Specifically, residents wanted a public information session to accompany any future wind projects, a request the Town Board said they were willing to consider.
At the meeting, concerned homeowners voiced their opposition to the wind turbine, while some defended the camp’s decision to install it and criticized their neighbors for speaking out only after the structure’s construction.
Town of Merton resident Ed Schlumpf said he and his neighbors received a hand-distributed invitation to an informational meeting about the wind turbine last May. According to him, only one other resident showed up to the meeting with him and his wife.
“I guess my only question is where were all you people when you were invited to this informational meeting when there were representatives from the installers and everything to answer all of these questions that had to be reanswered tonight?” he asked.
Other residents contended that they never received any such invitation, but Camp Whitcomb-Mason executive director Chris Protz said he personally distributed them in surrounding neighborhoods.
Neighborhood residents distributed fliers in the surrounding area urging homeowners to come to the informational meeting and voice their concerns. The flier listed five major concerns including property values, taxes, noise and health concerns, supposed Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources opposition to the Camp Whitcomb-Mason turbine and safety.
Ry Thompson, the Seventh Generation representative giving the presentation, attempted to address those concerns during the meeting but challenged those that produced the flier to provide citations for the information they provided.
“Obviously there’s been some circulation of some claims about the turbine. Unfortunately there are zero references provided, and no one to contact for more information,” Thompson said during his presentation. “I prefer to debate with facts and figures and references.”
Thompson said the concerns presented on the flier applied more to the more controversial utility-scale wind turbines, which are sometimes as large as 500 feet tall. At 171 feet high, the wind turbine in Merton is small by comparison.
“You don’t have the wind resources in Waukesha County to ever see wind turbines of this type unfortunately or fortunately,” Thompson said. “It’s just not going to happen here.”
One point of contention centered around ice buildup on the turbine’s blades, potentially resulting in the turbine throwing ice when in operation. Thompson said that while ice throw can happen, the 171 foot turbine at Camp Whitcomb-Mason is equipped with technology that would stop the turbine upon detecting ice buildup, or if the power output does not match what is expected at a given wind speed. With 55 mph winds, the wind turbine automatically shuts down as well.
In his presentation Thompson said this particular wind turbine had a potential ice throw hazard zone of approximately 300 feet with winds at 25 mph. Nearby resident Jeff Showalter questioned what that ice throw distance might be at 55 mph (the speed at which the turbine automatically shuts off). When Thompson could not provide a definitive answer Showalter said, “And there are 18 children in Whitetail Hills subdivision that easily live within the ice throw range at 55 mph.”
Thompson addressed the flier’s other concerns throughout his presentation. He said the noise that turbines like the one at Camp Whitcomb-Mason make are not discernible above background noise at distances greater than 225 feet. The nearest home is approximately 1400 feet away from the turbine. The flier also indicated potential concerns for area wildlife. Thompson stated that wind turbines of this size account for anywhere from 0.1 to 0.2 percent of bird fatalities.
Residents also voiced fears of decreased property values, a concern he said was unfounded. “There is no evidence to suggest that individual, small wind turbines scattered in rural areas have any impact on property values,” one of his presentation slides read.
As Thompson addressed these concerns, residents expressed their dismay that they had not been more included in the planning and approval process.
“I don’t have any problems with wind farms as long as they’re in the right place. I don’t think it belongs in the middle of a residential area, first of all. If this was a coal-fired power plant with a smokestack up there 175 feet high, would it have gone through with flying colors?” asked Carl Holt. “I question whether or not it would have. I think there’s a little bit of bias on wind energy.”
“Personally, I don’t want to look at a wind tower when I’m out on the lake,” Holt later added.
Holt and others urged the town board to consider adding a clause about requiring public informational sessions into the ordinance the Town said it would draft.
“(Lack of communication) seems to be where most of the frustration for myself and a lot of my neighbors comes from. In the presentation it stated that the fliers were hand-delivered, and having just built, we didn’t receive one,” said J.R. Griddel. “I honestly think that is where a lot of the frustration comes from because I came home, and there was this 170 foot tower.”
→ Total height: 171 feet
→ Tower height: 140 feet
→ Rotor diameter: 63 feet
→ Expected energy output at average wind speed: 111,999 kilowatt hours (55 percent of camp’s need or equivalent to 13.5 Wisconsin homes)