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Wind turbine meeting entices crowd

Wind turbine construction will begin in Stephens County early in the spring, according to a NextEra Energy representative.

Last Thursday, a large crowd swamped the Rush Spring Lions Club to get a first-hand look at maps showing the placements of the turbines as well as find out more about the project in general.

Several NextEra employees were on-hand to answer questions.

“We’re still finalizing some of the land issues, but our hope is we will start construction in the spring, and it will be done by the end of the year,” Steve Stengel, NextEra communications director, said. “That’s been the plan all along, and we’re right on the timeline we originally set out.”

Stengel said the wind farm would include 120 turbines spread over properties in northeastern Stephens County and part of Grady County.

“At the height of construction, we will have about 200 construction workers, and once the facility is operational, up to 12, will live in the area and maintain the facilities,” Stengel said. “Over the lifespan of the project, we estimate $30 million in property taxes will be paid, and $60 million in landowner payments.”

While many people at the community meeting seemed to be interested in finding out how close the closest turbine was going to be to their property, some property owners were not pleased with the turbines making an appearance at all.

Not all the questions asked were answered, and others answered were not to the satisfaction of opponents.

A main concern of opponents was property value going down for not only those who owned land with turbines, but also for neighboring properties.

They questioned the reasoning behind a 24-page agreement landowners must sign. They also noted if a landowner sells his property, the new owner must abide by the same contract.

One opponent was concerned about the appearance, saying he did not want to see blinking red lights across the skyline at night.

Another opponent said a special interest group is behind the measure in order to get government subsidies for producing clean energy.

Stengel said he deals with concerns on a regular basis.

“One of the main things we hear about is the decrease in property value,” Stengel said. “One of the pieces of literature we have is about a property value study by an independent lab, so people can look at that and draw their own conclusions.”

Addressing the question of how they look, Stengel said there is really not much they can do about it.

“The old saying is ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ so if you tell me, ‘I don’t like the way that wind turbine looks, there’s nothing I can do to change your perception,” Stengel said. “If I don’t like blue cars, for example, there’s nothing you can do to make me like blue cars. That’s a difficult issue, because there is nothing we can do about the size of the turbines.”

He went on to say there has been a lot of scientific research that has gone into the issues people have the most concerns about.

“We share that information with people,” Stengel said.

Another concern, and one that can be particularly troublesome in this area is ice storms. Turbines have been known to ice over during ice storm and throw ice from the spinning arms.

“We have a lot of farms in the Midwest and several in Oklahoma,” Stengel said. “We watch the weather closely, and if the there is a chance of an ice storm we don’t want them running, and if there is ice accumulation, they shut down. It’s something we know how to manage.”

Another issue was wildlife could be detrimentally affected.

“There are some risks with any source of energy,” Stengel said. “If you look at wind side-by-side with other sources, wind stacks up well against the others.”

Stengel said the company has Owens Corning and Equinix, a data storage company, lined up as customers. Both are out of state.

“They are really buying the renewable energy, and the attributes that come along with the project,” Stengel said.