A lot can happen in 40 years.
Forty years ago, we didn’t have cell phones and instant access to whatever our heart’s desire. Scranton, Rippey, and Grand Junction had thriving schools and numerous businesses. Small family farms dotted the east side of Greene County. And those farmers were friends, families, and neighbors trying to do what was best for the land and their families.
Those schools are long gone. Most of those business and small farms are gone too. In place of many of those farm houses, at least around Grand Junction, Dana, and Rippey, are 500-foot windmills.
My name is Alexis Hooper. I am a fifth generation farmer. My husband Jason and I are raising our six children on land that has been in our family for over 100 years. We live just east of Grand Junction.
A little over a decade ago we decided to forego large salaries and the amenities of living in the D.C. area to move back to Greene County. We were the young people that the county strives to attract.
Why would we do that? Why would we give up money to try to make a farm work? Because for us life isn’t about money; it’s about people. We wanted a better life. We wanted to live in a community. We wanted to know our neighbors and feel safe and protected. We wanted to live in a place where our public servants knew us and looked out for us. And that is exactly what we got. Greene County is a wonderful place to be from. t’s an even better place to stay. And we want to help GROW Greene County.
About a year ago, a lady from Georgia pulled up into my driveway. You can bet that got everyone’s attention, including the neighbors. She explained that she represented MidAmerican Energy and that they would be putting up a windmill farm all around Greene and Boone County. And wouldn’t we like to sign a lease to get in on this great money-making opportunity? After all, everyone else around us has already signed up.
I shared the information with the landowners, members of my family that own the land around my property. Windmills seemed like a clever idea. We could get some money, help the environment, and give back to our community through taxes and good clean electricity. We were told we could put the windmills up wherever we wanted. What a great idea! We have some land that never produced a good crop; why not make some money off it?
Thank God Greene County has good attorneys. That contract didn’t match what I was told. That contract took all our power. We would not get to choose the location. We would essentially lease our land to MidAmerican. Ten thousand dollars for less than an acre sounds great; $10,000 for control of the whole farm, not so great. In the end there weren’t enough people around here that were willing to give up a part of their land to put up a windmill.
But, as anyone for 30 miles can see, windmills did go up. This was a decision made by less than a dozen county officials and the landowners that leased their land to the power company. No, you didn’t miss the vote on this. Iowa does not require a vote by the people for wind projects unless the county sues and demands one. And landowners have every right to do with their land as they see fit within the constraints of the law.
Our county stands to get millions of dollars from this project. No one can deny that more money is good for the county. I personally enjoy the amenities that our tax dollars provide.
MidAmerican enjoys our tax dollars as well. They receive huge tax credits and incentives to build industrial wind parks. Its owner, Warren Buffett, has stated that without the tax incentives it just doesn’t make sense to build them. The latest tax bill will reduce and eliminate those credits. But there is a loop hole for big business. Isn’t there always? If the company can show that the project has continuous work that began before Nov. 2, 2017, they can hang onto some of that money.
Maybe that’s why they sent a new guy out here this fall to push Phase 2 of the project. They have to get it done quickly before the gravy train runs out. The representative’s job was to sign us up and “get us paid.” He was good at his job. He picked off neighbors one by one playing off their fear, jealousy, or greed. I can’t fault my neighbors. They are good people. They will still be my neighbors after the Phase 2 decision is made. Hopefully, they will still be my friends.
But it’s hard to turn down $10,000 a year. And that guy used great tactics. In fact, the same tactics and even some of the same words that my husband and I used when we served in the military as counter intelligence and human intelligence collectors in the Middle East prior to and during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Our windmill liaison trained in the same schools and served in the same units that I did. I used the same empty golden promises on potential terrorists that he used on us. But his golden promises and attempts to pacify my concerns didn’t hold up when the contracts were presented.
I will be totally honest with you, something I feel MidAmerican is not. I do not own farm land. I cannot put a windmill on my property. Neither do the majority of my neighbors.
Most of the landowners who will put up a windmill do not live near them. We own a house and a few acres. If the handful of county officials approve the expansion I will have three windmills within three quarters of a mile of my house. One will be just over one-quarter of a mile away. Many places require windmills to be set back at least one-half mile from residences. In Greene County that set back is only 1,500 feet. At least 11 children will live in the shadow of these three windmills.
We will experience loud noises from the windmill as it generates electricity. When the angle of the sun and the windmill are lined up we will experience a flicker effect. Every three seconds a shadow could fall across our farm creating a strobing effect. There are numerous YouTube videos that demonstrate this, but you can experience it first hand driving down P-46 between Rippey and Grand Junction. If you don’t want to make the trip over here just let the kids turn the lights on and off for 15 minutes. It’s annoying at first and it’s maddening for those who live in the shadow of a windmill.
MidAmerican’s representative has promised that we will experience less than 30 hours of flicker a year. That’s the industry’s standard. But he was very quick to point out that Greene County did not set flicker limits. And who’s to say what will happen. MidAmerican has provided us with nothing more than hearsay and a one-sided contract to keep anyone from complaining in the future.
I am angry. I am angry that MidAmerican came here and waved money under our noses like we are a bunch of poor hick farmers. I am insulted that they think we are not smart enough to review their contracts and confirm the promises of their silver-tongued representatives. I am disappointed in our state law makers that give so much power to a corporation while forgetting about the people who put them in office. I am disappointed that county officials were misled and did not set flicker limits. I am disappointed that set backs are only 1500 feet from a residence instead of a safer distance of one-half mile. I am angry that a large corporation gets to decide the fate of our county and most of you who read this have no say; no vote. I am afraid that the proximity of these windmills to a house will cause devastating physical and mental problems for the people living there. I am worried that our property values will diminish. I am sad that money is more important than people.
I am disappointed in myself the most. I did not do my part to look out for my friends and neighbors to the north when Phase One began. I did not speak up for them and for that I am truly sorry. I was tricked, too.
As I’ve stated before, my family has lived and farmed this land for over 100 years. God willing, we will be here for another 100. At the end of the day the construction trucks will be gone, leaving the 500-foot towers behind for 40 years.
Hopefully, they will not go bankrupt, or lose government funding like so many other wind companies have. Hopefully, those farmers will get their money every year. Hopefully, our roads will be fixed. Hopefully, that flicker effect will not bother my autistic child. Hopefully, the windmill will not be loud enough to damage my children’s hearing. Hopefully, the good men and women making the decision to approve Phase 2 have done their due diligence. Hopefully, our county has a solid decommissioning plan when these windmills stop working, a plan that is locked up tight and holds MidAmerican to the deal today and not 20, 30 or 40 years down the road. Hopefully, they have that money in escrow right now.
Hopefully, you will attend the public meeting at the court house on DECEMBER 21, at 1 pm and share your opinions either for or against. Because a lot can happen in 40 years.
Alexis Hooper, Grand Junction
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