WATERLOO – RPM Access has spent two years working on plans for Black Hawk County’s first industrial wind farm.
A group of property owners opposed to turbines towering in fields near their homes have been preparing nearly as long to stop it.
Both sides will square off this week when the county Planning and Zoning Board holds a public hearing and makes a recommendation on whether the Washburn Wind Energy project should be built.
Seating is expected to be at a premium for the hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday in Waterloo City Hall.
DeSoto-based RPM Access has developed roughly 17 percent of the wind farm projects which have made Iowa the third-ranked generator of wind power nationally and the top-ranked state in terms of the percentage of electricity coming from wind generation.
Subsidiary Washburn Wind Energy LLC has applied for a special permit to put up a 70-megawatt project with 35 turbines to be located south of Waterloo in an area generally bounded by Griffith Road on the north, Tama Road to the south, Holmes Road on the west and Iowa Highway 21 on the east.
The project also includes a new substation near the intersection of Washburn Road and Ansborough Avenue, underground power lines, a meteorological tower and an aircraft detection lighting system tower.
Washburn Wind Energy said it has all of the necessary easements and land leases in place for the project.
Company representative Felix Friedman said benefits of the project include more than $35 million in lease and tax revenue to landowners, neighbors and local governments over 30 years.
He said the project would power 26,000 homes while cutting carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel power plants equivalent to removing 42,000 cars from the road or planting more than five million trees.
Opponents of the project, organized as Cedar Valley Citizens for Responsible Wind Energy, mostly live in the southern part of the county and have voiced a number of concerns about its impact on their health and property values.
At an informational meeting last week, the members said they believe studies showing turbines can cause negative health effects in humans and livestock; reduce surrounding property values; and kill migratory birds and other wildlife.
Opponents also said shadow flicker and noise from spinning blades, flashing lights and the sheer size of the structures will diminish their quality of life. They are concerned about towers disrupting radio, cellphone and television signals.
Wind energy groups dispute claims of negative health effects from wind turbines, which have been operating in many places for more than two decades.
Jerry Steimel, who farms in southern Black Hawk County and has agreed to have 3.5 turbine sites on his land, said the turbine payments will help him make up for what has been a rough time for corn and soybean profits.
“I’ve lost a considerable amount of money in the last few years, and this project is absolutely going to help me pay off some debts,” he said. “If any of the opponents or any of my neighbors could put up a 400-foot tower and pay off a bunch of debt, I wouldn’t stand in their way.”
Steimel said he wouldn’t have agreed to put the towers on his land if he believed they would be detrimental to his hog finishing operations or would interfere with the satellite signals he needs to operate his GPS farm machinery.
While opponents object to turbines taking prime agricultural land out of production, the 22 acres slated to be taken out of row crops by the Washburn Wind Energy project is small when compared to the 129 acres of land the city of Waterloo just voted to rezone for a housing project near Orange Elementary School, Steimel added.
The Planning and Zoning Board will only be making a recommendation on the special permit. The county Board of Adjustment is slated to meet April 24 to give final approval or deny the request, following another public hearing.
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