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Iowa’s wind energy industry is among the most successful in the United States, with plans to add hundreds of turbines in coming years. But the rise of wind power has prompted a backlash among some Iowans who have no desire to live near the massive propellers.
A few reasons why they so vehemently oppose wind power:
Constant ‘flickers,’ noise are ‘distracting’
Tom Stewart can see about a dozen wind turbines within a mile of the farmhouse he’s lived in since he was 15.
What bothers the 72-year-old farmer most about the turbines owned by MidAmerican Energy are the constant “flickers” that pervade his home periodically each year.
Imagine, he says, someone flipping a light on and off, on and off – for an hour straight. It’s like living with a strobe light, he says.
“You get about 23 flickers a minute,” Stewart said, though it has reached 40 a minute more recently.
Added to that is the noise, which, he said, “sounds like an airplane is coming in to land.”
“It’s distracting, and it affects you,” said Stewart, who lives in his family home with his wife.
Fears of ‘stray voltage’ worry dairy farmers
Jennifer and Brent Bower hear talk about a wind farm expansion near their dairy cows in Ida County, and, frankly, they’re worried.
Brent Bower is reading articles and research and talking with as many experts as possible about “stray voltage” that could emanate from the massive turbines and electric cables buried in the ground.
Stray voltage occurs when electricity isn’t properly grounded, and it can be a serious problem in dairies, shocking animals standing on the floor, touching a waterer or other equipment.
It can affect dairy cows’ appetites and significantly hurt milk production, the Bowers said.
Brent Bower has spent significant time and money updating his dairy’s wiring and equipment to avoid the problem.
But with three neighbors willing to host turbines, the Bowers fear it could hurt – or possibly end – their business.
The Bowers have received reports from consultants indicating stray voltage problems for neighbors of wind farms in Wisconsin and Iowa.
But a University of Wisconsin expert says a large wind farm is a “very unlikely source of stray voltage” since it has no direct connection to the local distribution system or farm wiring.
And MidAmerican Energy says it’s received no complaints about stray voltage at any of its wind farms, all of which have livestock within their footprint.
Still, the Bowers don’t want to take any chances with their livelihood.
“The risk is too great for me to consider,” said Brent Bower, who hopes his daughter and son decide to join the business his father started.
Jennifer Bower would like the energy company to provide the dairy a buffer, giving the business space to protect its cows and provide room for future growth.
Two generations of work have gone into building the dairy, she said, and “it’s absurd” that an energy company could jeopardize that.
‘We’ve become a dumping ground for wind turbines’
Janna Swanson of rural Ayrshire in northwest Iowa is a foot soldier in The Coalition for Rural Property Rights, fielding calls from people around the state and the Midwest who oppose wind power.
“We are in something of a war against wind companies,” said Swanson, whose Palo Alto County’s group is battling against Chicago-based Invenergy’s plans to build a wind farm in the area.
She outlines a list of concerns, including taking rich farmland out of production, giving tax credits for wealthy wind investors and safety concerns about turbines.
Swanson’s main concern, though, is about property rights. She doubts anyone in a city would welcome a five-story structure next to their home.
“We’ve become the dumping ground for wind turbines,” says Swanson, who believes that the 1,500-foot setback Palo Alto County requires from a neighbors’ home is far too little.
Swanson’s wind research began with the Rock Island Clean Line proposal, and her family’s farm is in the transmission line’s proposed path.
“They feel they can handle us, stem our opposition, that our voices don’t matter,” she said. “But we have to live between them.”
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