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Panel recommends giving Duke Energy 90 days to fix Shirley Wind problems, or risk permit

GLENMORE – Glenmore’s Plan Commission is recommending a strong message to the owners of the Shirley Wind Farm: Stop annoying nearby residents, or risk losing your permit to operate in the town.

By a 6-0 vote, the commission recommended Tuesday that the Town Board direct Duke Energy Renewables to work to eliminate a phenomenon, called “shadow flicker,” that has prompted complaints from some people living near the turbines at Shirley Wind.

Under the recommendation, Duke would have 90 days to produce results in order to renew the conditional-use permit issued by the town. The commission also called on the town board to schedule a review of the permit in a year, and to require Duke to make it easier for residents to notify the company when shadow flicker affects their homes.

“You can get this done,” Commission head Ann Schaefer told Duke representatives Tuesday. “You’ve got smart people here. I think this can happen, and I think it’s got to happen.”

The Town Board, which is next slated to meet in early October, can accept or reject the recommendation. The board would also decide when the 90-day clock would start, and what the potential consequences of non-compliance would be.

Duke officials, in response to questions from commission members, acknowledged that the wind farm’s performance isn’t perfect, But the company insists it uses the latest technology and has reduced the turbines’ impact on people living near the site.

“Are there flaws? Absolutely … but we’ve gotten significant improvement on shadow flicker,” said Ben Jordan, the operations director for Shirley who oversees several other Duke-owned wind farms. “The conversation is ‘what else can we do to engineer the system to make it better,’ but what we have is the best in the industry.”

Duke officials said they have installed devices on two Shirley turbines to measure the potential for shadow flicker, and to quickly shut the windmills down at times when the flickering could be noticed in nearby dwellings. But some neighbors say that approach doesn’t always work.

A report Duke provided to the town said the company received 46 complaints about Shirley Wind in 2012, 86 a year later, and reached 32 in 2014, 40 in 2015 and 22 in 2016, according to Schaefer.

The company also reported having received six complaints in the first part of 2017. Commission members, however, said that doesn’t reflect recent complaints, such as six received from one address in mid-August.

Some people living near wind farms claim shadow flicker causes headaches, annoyance and stress. Other people, however, dispute such claims or say that the effects are minimal and dissipate quickly.

The heart of the conditional-use permit, which Glenmore issued in 2012, restricts shadow flicker on inhabited structures in Shirley.

The commission Tuesday also recommended that the Town Board direct Duke to work to improve communications with people who live near the wind farm.

Commission member Tim Rueth said the web page Duke set up to receive complaints from Shirley Wind’s neighbors is difficult to use; another town official said it doesn’t always work. And Rueth said some of the written responses the company has issued in response to complaints frustrate some neighbors because they seem “very cut-and-paste.”

The company also has a voicemail set up for neighbors to report shadow-flicker issues by phone. Jordan said the company responds to those in writing, however, because telephone and in-person interactions with upset neighbors have been “difficult.”

Previously, the Brown County Board of Health declared the wind farm a human-health hazard. But the county’s former health director concluded in 2015 that insufficient evidence existed to link the wind farm to people’s health issues.

What is shadow flicker?

Shadow flicker is the flickering effect caused when rotating wind turbine blades periodically cast shadows through constrained openings such as the windows of nearby properties.

A study published in Britain in 2011 concluded that the flickering “should not cause a significant risk to health, (but) in the few cases where problems have arisen, they have been resolved effectively using mitigation measures, in particular turbine shut-down systems.”