The atmosphere was tense and tempers flared during the public hearing held by the Palo Alto County Supervisors on Thursday, Oct. 5. The meeting was held to review the wind turbine application submitted by Invenergy as well as giving the public an opportunity to give comments regarding their feelings of the proposed Palo Alto Wind Project.
Palo Alto County Attorney Peter Hart opened the meeting with introductions of the Board of Supervisors and member from Invenergy as well as experts in the fields of Epidemiology, Noise, Neurology and Sleep as well as Real Estate Appraisers.
“Would you introduce everyone in this room now please?” Bertha Mathis, county resident asked.
“I would be happy to,” Hart responded.
“I’m just trying to make a point. It’s fine if you want to introduce all of them (Invenergy representatives and experts), you can,” Mathis stated. “But I want it on record that you are not following protocol.”
“Thank you. They (Invenergy) are the applicants. They are applying to the county so they are recognized by the chair,” Hart said. “They are the applicant and we wouldn’t be here but for them.”
“One would do, Pete. One person up there would do it,” Tom Stillman landowner and resident stated, “You can introduce one of them.”
“You can say the same thing about this [referring to the Supervisor’s table],” Hart replied.
“No, them are Supervisors. We know the Supervisors.” Stillman exclaimed. “You introduce one them. That’s Invenergy. Introduce one.”
“Thank you, point taken, “Hart responded.
As Hart continued to introduce members of Invenergy and experts, Stillman interrupted, “We said one, Pete. Now you are changing the rules. No this is a true fact, if Invenergy is one company, why do we get all of them introduced and you’re not introducing all of us? We’re a little upset about this and you’re not doing anything about it!”
Hart continued to introduce others that were at the meeting representing special groups and members of Invenergy and experts and was once again interrupted.
“I’m going to make a point of order that this meeting is out of order,” Stillman stated. “You are violating the open rules meeting and you need to have a judge come in here and rule on it. This will have to stop.”
“That is what Wally [Wallace Taylor, Attorney] is here for,” Hart said.
Others in attendance made comments referencing that it was a public meeting and people were afraid that the experts were going to get more time to speak than members of the public.
When introductions were complete, Stillman stated that he wanted everyone in attendance to be introduced. Mathis said it would take too much time and the meeting continued. Hart continued asking for respect toward everyone making comments and the meeting to be in an orderly fashion so everyone who signed up to speak would have a chance to do so.
“I am an attorney from Cedar Rapids representing folks within this area proposed to be constructed. We are not opposed to wind energy,” Wallace Taylor stated. “Wind energy is a way to address climate change and depletion of our natural resources. But wind energy projects must be sited properly. Care must be taken to protect the environment, the rivers, the woods, all of the things that we cherish her in Iowa. And these projects should be sited so that they are not impacting the people who live in the area in terms of sight, sound, impact to farming and it can be done. We’ve done it here in Iowa before.”
“The duty of this Board is to make sure that this project is sited properly. However, the first point I want to make is that the Iowa Utilities Board has jurisdiction over this project. I know that in the application, the Utilities Board was not apparently even notified about this project,” Taylor continued. “The Iowa Code Chapter 476 states ‘any power generating plant or combination of plants at a single site with a total generating capacity of at least 25 megawatts, must obtain a permit from the Iowa Utilities Board. This project is one full project. One big site and is certainly more than 25 megawatts. It’s about 340 megawatts as I understand it.”
“The Iowa Code makes it clear in determining what is a facility that it is measured with this 25 megawatts or more, that the entire operation is considered. So, I think the courts, if we get to that point, are going to find that the Utilities Board has jurisdiction of this project. That said if you knew this Board [Iowa Utilities Board] has jurisdiction that preempts or supersedes any local authority, so this Board [Board of Supervisors] would have no authority to issue a permit. So I suggest that before issuing a permit, the Board should require Invenergy to go through the Utilities Board process.”
“Even looking at the county’s ordinance and if the Board did have jurisdiction, we have much on record to demonstrate to the Board that a permit should not be issued. We have two letters from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources expressing concerns about the waters, wildlife and various environmental impacts of this project that need to be addressed and that hasn’t been done,” Taylor continued. “Finally, there has been no showing of the alleged economic benefits of this project for Palo Alto County. The Board needs to have something in writing to that affect.”
“Mr. Taylor, I suggest you read the entire Chapter 476. Invenergy is not a public utility so Chapter 476 does not apply to us,” noted Mike Blazer, Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer for Invenergy.
“I am a landowner that is surrounded by this,” Dale Opheim, landowner began. “So it is either I participate or I don’t. I don’t care if it goes through. If it doesn’t go through I will continue with my farming. But if it does go through, I would just as soon participate. It’s an opportunity.”
Opheim went on to remind those in attendance that the first thing everyone will do when they go home is turn on lights. He named hydroelectric power, coal, natural gas or nuclear power, pointing out the drawbacks of each form of energy. The noise being another factor, Opheim stated that living near POET he listens to their driers, which are very distracting, and subsidies were another area he discussed. He reminded everyone that POET was built with subsidies and that farmers will be getting subsidy checks soon.
“The birds. We’re going to kill some birds. I have a study from Stanford University done last year,” Opheim said. “You guys, you’re guilty [Invenergy]. Wind turbines in the U.S. killed 19,876 birds last year. That’s terrible. But, you know what, 97 million birds died from flying into windows and 72 million birds died from using ag [agriculture] chemicals. I think we better quit using ag chemicals, too. Do you know what the number one cause of bird deaths were? 110 million birds died because of cats. Let’s get rid of the cats.”
“And you guys [Invenergy] killed 20,000. That’s 2.9 birds per tower including sparrows and pigeons. So I don’t really get along with that wildlife thing,” Opheim continued. “To go further with that, you are worried about the migratory birds, farm chemicals are killing a lot more migratory birds. It’s a byproduct just like there will be some byproducts from wind turbines that no of us are going to like.”
Opheim also addressed drainage tile noting that he is concerned about this and has had many talks with them [Invenergy] about the subject and hopes that they follow through with everything they said.
“Bottom line is this is my land. I paid for it. I pay the taxes on it and as long as something is done on that land within the County Supervisors guidelines, then by God it ought to be my decision what is done on that land. It ought to be mine and any other person who wants to do it,” Opheim stated. “Right now I’m harvesting corn for $3 and beans for $9. It’s time to start harvesting some wind too as a third crop.”
Editor’s Note: The account of Thursday’s Public Hearing will be continued in the Thursday, Oct. 12 issue of The Democrat.
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