In recent weeks there have been a number of letters and articles written applauding the potential wind turbine project in our county and its economic “windfall.” My husband and I attended the project presentation at the VFW. Representatives from ILCC and some energy companies were given the opportunity to inform us of their plans and how they would affect our tax revenues, schools, and farmers’ bottom lines. It was a glowing picture of how we would become rich, our children would have fabulous jobs and never leave, and our children’s children’s children would thank us for our foresight.
Well, every coin has two sides. Nothing was offered on the effects of wind turbines on wildlife. Reliable sources estimate that 140,000 to 328,000 birds die each year in collisions with turbines. And the taller turbines they are proposing are more deadly than the shorter ones. The blades move over 140 mph. No bird can react fast enough to avoid them or even recognize the danger. Another concern is the loss of habitat. Yes, I know, only a part of an acre is taken by each turbine, but there is an avoidance factor-wildlife moves away from the structure. This may be due to the shadow flicker, which mimics the shadow cast by predatory birds as they pass overhead. Studies done in North Dakota indicate that there may be as much as a 40% drop in usage (nesting, feeding, and so on) in marshes in proximity to wind turbines. My brother, who guides pheasant hunts in central Iowa, said that his business dropped by over half when turbines were installed on the property. What will this do to the revenue brought into our county by hunters from other areas? Nothing good. Since a CREP wetland was created across the section from us, we have seen ducks, geese, herons, and even eagles near our home, traveling between it and the lake. Just three weeks ago, a bald eagle landed on a fence post on my property-I watched it from my kitchen window. If my home is near one or more turbines, that will never happen again. Apparently, bald eagles are particularly susceptible to wind turbines.
As for farmers being able to substantially supplement their income, that only goes so far. Many of the farmers I know only rent the land they work. Therefore, they will not benefit in any way. In fact, they will now have to work around an obstruction, will lose the land it sits on, and will not even be allowed to use the access road going through the field. And speaking of access roads, a friend on the Hancock County Board of Supervisors says that they are now dealing with beer parties, meth cooking, and illegal hunting because people use those roads to go into the fields unobserved.
A concern raised was the damage to our roads during construction. Mid-American energy assured us that they would bring in equipment and repair the roads as they went along, leaving them better than they were before. During the highline construction project that Mid-American undertook last year, there was considerable damage to the gravel roads, county paved roads, and Highway 18. They did indeed repair the gravel roads, but the paved roads were left as is. This project, with significantly heavier vehicles and machinery, will do much more damage. Who will pay to fix Highway 18? Not Mid-American.
Another consideration is the noise pollution. We were assured that the “whoosh” of the blades is less than the sound of the air conditioning at the VFW. That may be true, but the hum of the generator is considerably louder and more unpleasant. There is considerable anecdotal evidence that there is a negative health effect of living near turbines.
All of these arguments are emotional, not financial, so I doubt that they will sway many people, but these intangibles are important. Once something is done, it cannot be undone. We need to consider all sides of the issue before making a decision. One of the things I most love about our county is its peace and natural beauty. If we fill the countryside with these behemoths, that will disappear. My home is already surrounded by hog facilities, making it frequently impossible to spend time outdoors or even open my windows, and those are at least a half-mile away. Our zoning commission was asked to collect information and write an ordinance. They recommended the same setback for turbines as for hog facilities. The board of supervisors, however, changed the policy to 1500 feet, just barely more than a quarter-mile away from residences. That is to Mid-American’s advantage, not ours. The half-mile setback protected those who didn’t want the intrusion but allowed others to build closer if they chose by signing a waiver. This was good for everyone. Now, these turbines could be as little as a quarter-mile away from my home. I think that a person should be able to do what he wants on his own land, but not to the detriment of his neighbors’ quality of life. Make no mistake: this will reduce our quality of life. No more peaceful country walks, no more birdsong, no more sightings of pheasants or foxes or other wildlife-they will be killed or move out.
Right now the wind energy companies need us, so they will tell us almost anything to convince us that this is in our best interests. But, these people do not live here, so what do they care if our beautiful countryside becomes just another industrial wasteland? And no one has even mentioned property values. If two essentially equal properties were for sale, one next to a wind turbine and the other not, which would you buy?
One further observation: those most vocally supportive of the project all seem to live in town. They will reap the benefits without paying the price. If this is so great an opportunity, why not put turbines just outside town, say, just north or west of Rockport, so everyone can enjoy them? I guess we know whose ox will get gored, don’t we?
(signed) Cynthia Berkland
P.S. I am not opposed to clean, green energy, and I recognize that our county needs a financial transfusion, but this is not as perfect as they would have us believe. There is more to life than money, and those factors have to be taken into account when we make decisions that have such sweeping, long-term effects. These are serious problems and should not be taken lightly. In the final consideration, we need to decide if what some of us will gain financially is worth what all of us will lose.
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