WATERLOO – Washburn Wind Energy has won approval to erect 35 industrial wind energy turbines in southern Black Hawk County farm fields.
Members of the county Board of Adjustment voted 3-2 Tuesday following five hours of public hearing and debate to approve a special permit for the 70-megawatt project around Eagle Center, southeast of Hudson.
The decision clears the way for Washburn Wind Energy, a wholly owned subsidary of DeSoto-based RPM Access, to complete several required studies and apply for building permits for the estimated $120 million project.
Board members Larry Oltrogge, Lucas Jenson and Diane Depken voted in favor of the special permit, which had been recommended for approval last week by the Planning and Zoning Board.
Board members Steve Rosauer and Dr. Laval Peloquin sided with more than a hundred opponents of the project – most who will live in and around the turbine field – who filled the meeting room in opposition.
Supporters of the project had touted the benefits of green energy to the environment and said the project would generate jobs, tax revenue, economic activity and money for local farmers with turbines on their land.
Opponents voiced numerous concerns mostly about the potential negative impacts on their health and property values and the loss of prime agricultural ground.
But Jenson said his vote was based on the Board of Adjustment’s role and not setting public policy, which is what the elected supervisors did when they adopted an ordinance encouraging wind energy production.
“Our role here is to look at the applicants and see if they conform to the county ordinance,” Jenson said. “I do feel the applicant has met all the requirements set forth by our ordinance.”
Roseaur disagreed, suggesting the board had a broader role in protecting the neighbors.
“Our standards do say that the establishment, maintenance or operations of the special exception will not be detrimental to or endanger the public health, safety, morals, comfort or general welfare,” Roseaur said. “That’s a judgment we have to make.”
Peloquin, a local physician, engaged in a lengthy debate with Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen, a neurologist from Baltimore who attended the meeting at the request of Washburn Wind Energy.
Ellenbogen said there was no scientific proof living near wind turbines had negative impacts on human health, citing several North American studies. He specifically addressed persons with photosenitive epilepsy, saying research showed shadow flicker caused by spinning turbines would not trigger seizures.
“The kind of light, its intensity and the frequency that come from wind turbines will not cause seizures even in the most vulnerable population,” he said.
Peloquin, however, challenged the general statement wind turbines were harmless to human health. He said his review of research noted some evidence of health issues, although conceded it was not well defined.
“The big thing we’re lacking is objective studies,” Peloquin said. “I have more questions than answers.”
Keltson Cummings was one of many property owners voicing fears about losing property value due to the project, which would make it harder to sell and move away to avoid health concerns.
“For me it isn’t just about money, politics or green energy,” Cummings said. “Rather it is about keeping the ones I love alive and healthy.”
Cummings said he mother has brain cancer and his girlfriend has epilepsy, so he wants neither exposed to the turbines.
“Though we are a small group we don’t deserve to be forced into something that will be a gain for a few at the expense of our health, our lives, our property values and our way of living,” he said.
Tom Waller was one of several land owners who will host turbines if they are built, receiving lease payments that are more reliable than crop income.
“I just urge you people to consider people who are going to benefit from this,” he said.
Margaret Whiting said any health impacts from turbines are less dangerous fossil fuel emissions, which also contribute to global climate change.
“If we care about our children’s future we have to stop burning coal now,” she said.
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