More than 100 people filled the hearing room and hallway to show their opposition to windmills. There wasn’t a seat left unfilled. But it was the testimony of one farmer and a handful of supporters of the technology that raised eyebrows at last week’s meeting of the Howard County Commissioners.
It was the second time that the impassioned opposition had appeared before the board, despite windmills not being on the agenda. Clad in white, the organizers made clear their intent to attend each commissioners’ meeting until their demands are met.
But Commissioner Tyler Moore cautioned the crowd that no action is planned or will be taken. The county entered a contract with wind energy company e. On in 2009 and bound itself to allowing the wind turbines to be installed in Howard County.
This did not deter the remonstrators from spending more than three hours pleading their case, invoking every ill and detriment imaginable as reasons not to allow the windmills to be constructed. From dropping property values to noise pollution to shadow flicker to infrasound “communication” between windmills causing a variety of health afflictions, few tactics were left untouched.
Francine Jewett, a Sycamore resident living close to the current wind farm, did not sit back and allow these accusations to go unanswered. She attempted to debunk many of the commonly held criticisms of wind energy. She particularly took aim at the Industrial Wind Action Group, which maintains a website filled with nothing but anti-wind energy information.
“There is a lot of misinformation about wind farms,” said Jewett. “The reality of the wind ‘experts’ of the Industrial Wind Action Group is all of them are members of or tied into the fossil fuel industry. They go to communities and start grassroots organizations with their oil money, trying to kill wind farms because they feel it will rob the oil barons of their income.”
One of the common refrains against the wind turbines is that the noise from them is damaging or disrupting. Jewett pointed to an acoustical engineering website that has calculators that show the reduction in sound through atmospheric absorption. But a calculator isn’t truly necessary, as sound from a point source drops six decibels per doubling of distance.
For instance, a sound level of 90 decibels heard at 40 feet from the source would be just 84 decibels at 80 feet. That’s 78 decibels at 160 feet, 72 decibels at 320 feet, 66 decibels at 640 feet, and 60 decibels at 1,280 feet. That’s roughly a quarter-mile away from the source.
The Perspective traveled to the wind turbines last week and took some informal sound measurements. The swishing of the wind blades produced a maximum noise of 75 decibels at a distance of 40 feet from the base of the tower. That’s 45 decibels at the quarter-mile mark – quieter than the background noise in a normal home.
When the turbine housing turned the blades to better catch the wind, the machinery produced a whine that topped out at 90 decibels at 40 feet. That reduces to the level of a typical conversation between two people at a quarter mile.
And it should be noted that the wind itself produced similar and even greater levels of noise when the breeze blew across our meter.
Jewett addressed the argument that property values drop around wind farms by pointing to a study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which concluded, “neither the view of wind energy facilities nor the distance of the home to those facilities was found to have any consistent, measurable, and significant effect on the selling prices of nearby homes.”
When it came to bird kills, Jewett cited the worst known case – a wind farm containing more than 7,000 turbines. That farm killed 182 birds over a two-year period.
“We all know that the oil industry has killed more birds than that with oil spills,” said Jewett.
Local farmer Brian Kirkpatrick, one of the landowners under contract to allow wind turbines in Howard County, attempted to explain why the decision was made.
“The reasons why the farmers as a group looked at this was because the first thing we talked about was some of the things that could be done for our local community,” said Kirkpatrick. “Such as a full-time paid ambulance service and the taxes that would be of benefit to the county.
“As we went on a little farther, we got attorneys involved. We found out that some of the possibilities to help the community were out of our hands. It’s in the hands of the commissioners.”
Kirkpatrick explained that the farmers discussed many of the concerns that have been raised. They traveled to Benton County to view and listen to the wind turbines there. And they weighed the tax revenue that would be generated by the turbines.
“We finally got a contract and thought it was good,” said Kirkpatrick. “We want to make it clear that in no way did we choose money over quality of life. We thought we were helping the community by the amount of revenue coming in to reduce the burden on people’s property taxes and hopefully get more services that otherwise would never happen.
“None of us want to farm around the towers, but if you want to go green and natural, someone has to make a sacrifice or adjust. In no way did we intend for it to end up as it has.”
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