Over 100 residents and landowners of Jo Daviess Township filled Hamilton Hall in Blue Earth last Tuesday night to learn more about the Big Blue Wind Farm coming to their neighborhood later this year.
While there was support expressed for the 36 megawatt project, there were also several residents who voiced their concerns.
That is exactly what the public hearing was for, says Ingrid Bjorklund of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, who hosted the public forum.
“This is your chance to ask questions and express your concerns,” Bjorklund told the crowd. “It will be entered into the public record and will be considered by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) when they decide whether to grant the site permit.”
Several people took advantage of the opportunity – some in support, and some not.
Dan Moore, who was president of Windfinity, the original organization seeking to build the towers, spoke in favor of the project.
“We are thrilled to finally be having this meeting,” Moore says. “We are happy to have Big Blue here and moving forward.”
While Windfinity started the project, the rights to build it was purchased by Exergy Development Group of Boise, Idaho.
It is Exergy that is seeking the site permit to construct the project.
Not everyone who spoke was as thrilled as Moore, however. Several residents were concerned over issues such as shadow flicker, noise and overhead power lines.
Jason Larsen says he lives right in the middle of the project and is not in favor of it at all.
“We are going to be adversely affected by shadow flicker and noise,” he says. “I don’t think it is right that I should be affected by thisin any way.”
Shadow flicker occurs when the turning wind turbine blades cause flashes alternating between light and shadow.
Larsen’s wife, Laura, says she operates an animal kennel business on their property.
“The noise and shadow flicker will be a problem with the animals,” she says. “It will have a negative impact on my business.”
Bjorklund says there are no conclusive reports on how flicker and noise affects animals, or humans for that matter.
“But, your comments are important to have in the record,” she says. “The PUC will consider everything and mandate what needs to be done in order to grant the site permit.”
That includes changing overhead wires to underground, Bjorklund says.
Faribault County commissioner Greg Young and Jo Daviess Township supervisor Greg Mastin both spoke of the concern over overhead lines.
“When the project was first being proposed, all the lines were going to be underground,” Mastin says. “I realize things have changed now, but we still want the lines underground.”
The current plan calls for feeder lines to be above ground, collector lines will be buried. Young says that issue needs to be revisited, and Bjorklund says it will be.
But, Exergy officials made their position clear.
“With the towers spread out over such a large area, it may not be economically feasible to put all the lines underground,” says Collin Rudeen, site engineer for Exergy. “Our figures show it could increase the cost by $6 million.”
The project area covers 15,000 acres. The exact location of each of the towers has not been determined, although maps of proposed sites were at the hearing on Tuesday.
Rudeen says it is his job to do the micro-siting of the towers.
“We carefully study the issues of flicker and noise when we place the units,” he says. “We will know exactly how many hours of flicker will occur at any location. Many times it is less than an hour per year of total flicker time.”
Bjorklund says the state does not have any ordinance dealing with flicker. However, there is one for noise.
“The noise has to be below 35 decibels at night,” she says. Exergy’s engineer Rudeen compared that to “a whisper.”
Bjorklund also spoke of how the towers must be at least 1,000 feet from a residence, and 250 feet from a road.
Other concerns expressed at the meeting had to do with fixing damaged roads during construction, possible lower property values because of the project, and what happens to the towers after they are no longer being used.
“There are provisions in the draft of the site permit which cover many issues including roads and costs of decommissioning the towers,” Bjorklund says. “The company has to have plans in place for paying for removing the towers if necessary.”
Commissioner Young asked what happens if the company goes bankrupt.
“That is a good question,” Bjorklund says. “So far that has never happened in Minnesota. We will add that to the list of concerns.”
One resident, Shirley Hanneman, spoke enthusiastically in favor of the project.
“I have been waiting for this to happen since 2003,” she says. “I would much rather have a wind tower within a mile of my house than a nuclear power plant 500 miles away.”
Hanneman says most of the people in the area are in favor of Big Blue Wind.
She asked all those in attendance to raise their hands if they favored it, and a majority of those in attendance did just that.
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