Why would Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker propose to increase the setbacks between wind turbines and property lines to 1,800 feet? Because the newest industrial wind turbines in our state are 50 stories tall.
It’s hard enough to imagine living next to a structure that big. Now include spinning blades that weigh 18 tons with a span wider than a 747 and a tip speed of about 170 miles per hour, operating 24/7 just 1,250 feet from your door.
Imagine living with turbine noise that is twice as loud as the World Health Organization’s limit for healthful sleep. Imagine 700 feet of your land used by a wind company without your permission and without compensation. Imagine a loss of your property’s value as high as 40 percent.
The new Public Service Commission’s Wind Siting Rules, which would have made this situation a reality, were to go into effect March 1. However, the state Legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules set aside the commission’s rules, allowing a reconsideration of the governor’s proposal.
I served as vice chairman of the commission’s Wind Siting Council. The majority of that council had a direct financial interest in the outcome of the rules, resulting in guidelines that protected those interests instead of protecting Wisconsin residents. I helped author a minority report to the commission, detailing how the majority’s guidelines failed to address the realities of the effects of large wind turbines on people living nearby.
Wisconsin residents have been living with turbines of the 400- to 500-foot variety for only a few years, but the problems with Public Service Commission setbacks once thought to be adequate have become very clear.
Wind project residents from all over the state gave sworn testimony to the Public Service Commission and to our legislators, telling of turbine noise much louder than expected, of sleep deprivation and resulting deterioration of health, of headaches from shadow-flicker, of loss of TV and radio reception, of complaints to wind companies that are ignored, of communities torn apart, and of homes that simply will not sell.
The Public Service Commission rules would have allowed wind companies to put a turbine 440 feet from your property line and claim about 700 feet of your land for use as their safety zone. It’s still your property, but you couldn’t build a structure or plant trees there without the wind company’s permission.
All of these problems can be avoided with greater setbacks.
I agree with increasing the setback between a turbine and your property line to 1,800 feet. If a wind company wants to put a turbine closer, it absolutely can. The difference is it will need your permission to do it, and it may have to compensate you.
A greater setback from the property line ensures that a wind company can’t take your property for their use unless you want them to.
Although this setback does not completely mitigate the very real health concerns associated with living too close to wind turbines, it gives us increased protection from turbine noise and shadow flicker and it protects our property. Most importantly, it gives us some choice.
If we can find a way to site turbines where they do no harm, everyone will be happy.
Zweizig retired as professor emeritus from the University of Wisconsin, where he taught in the School of Library and Information Studies. He is a member of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s Wind Siting Council. Zweizig lives outside Evansville, Wis., and has served for five years on the Plan Commission of Union (Rock County) Township when it developed an ordinance for the siting of large wind turbines. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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