The most unsettling aspect of the wind turbines debate is that nothing has been settled, nor does it look to be anytime soon.
This is despite efforts over the years from those who say wind energy doesn’t affect the health of those who live near the turbines and those who blame it for sleep disturbances, motion sickness, headaches, naseau and more.
Since the Shirley Wind Farm, run by Duke Energy Renewables in southern Brown County, began operation in 2010, some area residents have complained about the effects of low-frequency noise emitted by the eight turbines and the flickering, or strobe-like effect, of shadows from the blades.
Both proponents and opponents have struggled to get any clear ruling.
The Brown County Board of Health declared in October 2014 that the wind farm was a health hazard.
The result of that declaration? Nothing.
Then in December, the Brown County health director declared there was insufficient evidence to link wind turbines to illnesses.
The result of that declaration? Not much.
The state must step up, because there are wind farms scattered all over Wisconsin, as well as complaints about health issues associated with turbines.
It’s a statewide problem, but one the Legislature isn’t addressing. Instead, it wastes time on an issue like allowing blaze pink for deer hunting, while a more substantive issue, such as the health impact of wind turbines, gets little or no traction.
To his credit, Gov. Scott Walker included in his two-year budget proposal $250,000 to study this issue. Here was an opportunity to address an issue of importance to all state residents – those who could benefit from the clean power of wind energy and those who claim their lives have changed since the turbines started turning.
However, the Joint Finance Committee slashed it and ordered a review of existing studies.
If the state won’t look into these health issues, Brown County must, for the sake of its residents.
The county’s Human Services Committee listened to hours of testimony on Wednesday and then did nothing about it.
All we have is Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach’s plea to the County Board for support in asking the state to fund a study.
That didn’t work when the governor proposed it last spring.
Meanwhile, Brown County received a $4.3 million refund from excess Lambeau Field sales tax. That money is supposed to go toward the Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena complex. Why not approach the state about reallocating some of that money? There’s a better chance the state would agree to that than to foot the whole bill on a study.
If that doesn’t work, the $4.3 million refund frees up money that would have otherwise been spent on the arena. Use that savings for a wind turbine study.
Either way, Brown County must show some leadership on this issue, and it must be more than brainstorming and issuing conflicting declarations.
Turning wind into electricity is an attractive alternative to burning fossil fuels. Wind occurs naturally and harnessing it without having to mine, pump or burn resources that produce hazardous waste would benefit the environment and us in return. We should determine how to benefit from that.
However, we can’t sacrifice the health of people to produce energy, even when it’s clean energy.
Something is happening that is affecting these families who have testified to the negative health effects they’ve experienced living near wind turbines.
Some have just abandoned their homes. Think about that – leaving your house because your health depends upon it. Many who move away see their health issues subside or go away, too.
Others have stayed put because they’re unwilling to abandon their heritage, leave the homestead where their family history runs deep.
For those who say their health has been negatively affected, time is easily segmented into life before wind turbines and life after wind turbines – an apparent cause and effect that should be investigated.
We need an independent, unbiased study of the issue – not from the state’s Wind Siting Council, which has had some members with a vested interest in wind energy.
Brown County must lead this effort and not rely on inaction as a strategy to let an issue resolve itself.
That path leads to limbo, for all sides in this debate.
The Green Bay Press-Gazette is part of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.
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