TOWN OF MISHICOT – Standing in his front yard on Saxonburg Road, Dean Pekarek looks south and in his mind’s eye sees a 499-foot wind turbine and a 160-foot blade spinning through the air about a quarter-mile away.
The proposed Beautiful Hill Wind Farm, with six turbines in the town of Mishicot and one in the town of Two Rivers, may not become reality until 2013, but Dean and Clare Pekarek say they hope it never happens.
“The turbines are intrusive on non-participating property owners,” said Dean Pekarek, who has lived on his family’s dairy farm for 26 years. “We don’t know the true health effects, but what we’ve seen so far is not very positive.”
The Pekareks also fear their property value will go down as turbines go up. They have allies, including state Sen. Frank Lasee and state Rep. Andre Jacque, the Wisconsin Realtors Association, as well as other rural Manitowoc County neighbors who have talked to Brown County residents near wind farms who complain of headaches and sleepless nights.
Jay Mundinger, founding principal of EEW Services, has a starkly different perspective of Beautiful Hill Wind Farm, which he and his partners hope to have operational by the end of 2013.
On Friday, Mundinger said a depressed economy statewide and nationally may account for property values going down in some areas near wind farms, like Fond du Lac.
“I would suggest property value has increased in rural areas … (wind turbines) are an additional revenue source for agricultural land,” he said.
“Our company is very concerned about public health and safety … to date, nothing has been shown that indicates wind farms are creating these issues,” Mundinger said, declaring his company would continue to adhere to all state Public Service Commission (PSC) guidelines.
“When the turbine blades face our house, my wife and youngest son get terrible headaches that don’t go away unless they go into our basement,” said Ben Schauer, who lives in the town of Glenmore near the cluster of turbines known as Shirley Wind, built by Emerging Energies, parent company of EEW Services.
Schauer said it would be impossible for him and his family to move out, as a few families have done in Brown County in the shadow of industrial-sized wind turbines.
“I would go bankrupt trying to pay two mortgages,” he said.
Schauer was at a recent open house hosted by EEW Services featuring Mundinger and other company officials seeking to answer questions about Beautiful Hill and allay concerns.
“I have no real vested interest in Beautiful Hill Wind Farm,” Schauer said. “I wish the state would do more health studies before putting more turbines up and having more families impacted.”
Tom Larson, vice president of Legal and Legislative Affairs for Wisconsin Realtors Association, agrees and his organization has filed a lawsuit challenging wind siting regulations promulgated by a state Wind Siting Council that Pekarek and others say was predisposed to create rules favorable to development.
Larson said the PSC didn’t comply with statutory rulemaking procedures requiring an independent state agency to prepare a housing impact report.
“While the WRA supports greater utilization of wind energy and the creation of statewide standards for siting wind turbines, the organization has raised concerns about the negative impact of the wind siting rules on homeowners and the real estate development industry,” Larson said when the suit was filed in Brown County Circuit Court.
Larson said chief among WRA’s concerns is that “PSC 128” only mandates a setback distance from existing homes and businesses of 3.1 times the turbine height, a maximum of 1,250 feet. Larson said this distance “fails to adequately protect the health, safety and property values of Wisconsin property owners.”
Dean Anhalt is a town of Mishicot supervisor who believes longer setbacks will make a big difference. He is one of three members of the town board that recently called for a moratorium on wind farm development and more medical studies.
His parents live on County Highway V and would have four turbine towers within about 2,200 feet. To him, previous medical studies showing little human health impact aren’t meaningful because distance from homes to turbines was much longer than PSC 128 mandates.
“The fact that generators and blades are getting larger and closer to populations, problems are occurring more and more,” Anhalt said. “People are experiencing infrasound, which you can’t hear and resonates in your body … tissues thicken and health problems arise, including in the inner ear.”
Jacque said negative health impacts are real.
“Something doesn’t have to affect everyone but in this case affects a whole lot of people,” he said.”
“I don’t think people who have been living in their houses for decades and have planned to do so for decades more, make up stories, move out and take out second mortgages,” Lasee said of families who have left their Brown County homes claiming ill health effects from wind turbines.
“They aren’t filing suits, just looking for relief,” Lasee said.
Lasee has been trying to get the PSC to revisit wind siting standards and conduct more health studies that don’t rely on medical data he believes is irrelevant or faulty depending on where and how the study was performed.
Lasee believes financial factors may come to the rescue of those rural Manitowoc property owners seeking to halt or modify Beautiful Hill Wind Farm.
“Wind is free but wind energy is very expensive,” Lasee said. He said if federal government tax credits are allowed to expire at year end, “people will stop building these things.”
Not true, Mundinger said, at least that won’t be the case with his business partners in Emerging Energies, based in Hubertus, Wis.
Mundinger said they are moving forward whether tax credits are in place, or not.
“We would continue to put the pieces in place, allow the project to stand on its own … we will figure out a way to make it work,” Mundinger said.
“The turbines have gotten considerably more efficient and Wisconsin is a good state for wind farm development.”
Fran Kunz, who also lives on Saxonburg Road, said he isn’t ready to throw in the towel. He said the efforts of citizens in the area stopped a previously proposed wind farm project.
Kunz said he and his friends continue to do research that he believes shows health problems and negative property value impact can be eliminated with longer setbacks.
Kunz and his wife, Tracy, have two children, 4 and 7, who “play in the backyard, ride their bikes down the road. Our concerns are legitimate,” Kunz said, indicating he is not imposed to wind farms, just not situated in populated areas.
Mike LeClair lives around the corner on Assman Road, and would have two turbines within about 2,200 feet.
Or, as Dean Pekarek says, some of the property owners with one tower nearby will have blade noise in mono, while LeClair gets a stereo effect and “the Anhalts will get it in surround sound.”
“I enjoy the peace and quiet of living out in the country,” LeClair said. “I can hear the leaves falling off the trees. I’m in this valley and if the turbines go up on the hills, I’m going to hear that sound all day.”
“We stopped it once before, don’t know if we can stop them anymore … the law works for big money,” LeClair said. “The studies have been proven … they are building them too close to people’s homes.”
Pekarek and Kunz said the name of the farm of Richard Heyroth, who owns property that would have four turbines on them, is Schonen Hugel, or Beautiful Hill in German.
Mundinger said the next step in the permitting process is for Emerging Energies to submit final applications to the towns and county.
“There are many in-depth studies we have to conduct … that should give the public confidence the project has been well vetted out,” Mundinger said.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding