TOWN OF SPRINGFIELD – Homeowners in this hilly farm country northwest of Madison have sharply contrasting opinions about the 400-feet-tall wind turbines that have sprung up adjacent to Highway 12 in the last six weeks.
Some like them, others said they won’t pass judgment until they hear how noisy the blades are after they start spinning.
But Bruce and Jessica Hellenbrand are already unhappy. They said Wednesday the towers have ruined the view from the rear of their home and undercut its value.
“We built our dream home here in the middle of nowhere, and now look,” said Bruce Hellenbrand, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder toward the six turbines rising from neighboring farms to the west.
The nearest is about 1,300 feet from their house, which is set back on a landscaped ridge facing the intersection of the highway and Kickaboo Road.
Medical software giant Epic Systems built the turbines to offset energy needs at its headquarters in Verona. Company spokeswoman Barb Hernandez declined to comment on the Hellenbrands’ complaints.
Contractors erected the turbines quickly so Epic can claim tax credits that are set to expire this year.
Most neighbors are pleased with the towers, said one of three property owners who leased farmland to Epic for the wind power array.
“I think 90 to 95 percent of the people like seeing them, but there’s some people who think they are ugly,” said Stan Hellenbrand, who lives on Kickaboo Road and is a distant relation of Bruce Hellenbrand. “I’m hoping it doesn’t cause any problems for anybody.”
John Acker, whose farm home fronts on the highway a little north of Bruce and Jessica Hellenbrand, said he won’t mind the turbines, which are visible over the roofs of his barn and outbuildings, unless they generate annoying noise or shadows.
The blades will be stopped automatically whenever flickering shadows fall on any of roughly two dozen homes most likely to be affected, and the company promised to be responsive to complaints about noise, said Ed Englert, project manager for the construction contractor, The Morse Group.
The sounds of the blades spinning are expected to be quieter than the sounds of an air conditioner or a normal conversation, Englert said.
Epic tried to comply with Public Service Commission guidelines that went into effect in March, even though the town of Springfield hasn’t adopted specific ordinances to give the guidelines force of law, Englert said.
An ordinance passed this year would have had no effect because most permits needed under existing town ordinances were issued several years ago, along with the lease agreements with the three landowners, said Deborah Irwin, the state Public Service Commission’s renewable energy specialist.
The project plans, permits and leases passed through several hands before Epic purchased them this year.
Badger Coulee adjustments
Town chairman Don Hoffman said he hasn’t heard many complaints about the turbines, but he won’t be surprised if it’s a hot topic next year when residents can appeal increases in property tax assessments.
“I’m afraid at Board of Review time people are going to start yelling that their properties aren’t worth anything,” Hoffman said. “I don’t doubt that it could take longer to sell some of them now.”
Tom Meier, who lives near the west end of the turbines, said they give him hope the route of a planned high-voltage transmission line will bypass his property.
American Transmission Co. and Xcel Energy may make small adjustments to the route of the Badger Coulee line from Holmen, near La Crosse, to the Madison area so it doesn’t run too close to the turbines, ATC spokeswoman Kaya Freiman confirmed.
Meier said he is more worried stray voltage from the 345-kilovolt line will harm his cattle than he is about how the turbines look or how they might affect property values.
“I think they look neat,” Meier said.
Critics of the turbine industry cite studies linking wind turbines to health problems.
Scott Sanford, a UW-Madison outreach specialist on renewable energy, said he has seen nothing that persuades him turbines caused illnesses listed in the research.
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