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Kuntz: Are wind turbines worth it?

In his Wednesday, July 11 column on wind power in North Iowa, Merlin Bartz chose to highlight what he perceives as positives of the wind energy industry. There are both pros and cons.

Construction of a wind power facility creates a lot of jobs for road work, excavation, and cement hauling, but they are temporary. The specialized work of installing the turbines is typically done by people the turbine manufacturer brings in from outside of the community. After the turbines are connected, very few permanent jobs remain.

Values of farmland with wind turbines may indeed be higher than those without. What about other property values such as homes/ acreages? In Southern Minnesota, data consistently shows properties within the Bent Tree wind energy company footprint decreased in value, while properties values outside the footprint increased. While this can be a contested issue, I ask “Would you like to live across the road from a 607 foot wind turbine?”

Is wind energy the clean, economical resource the wind industry claims? Per unit of energy, subsidies for wind are much higher than other energy sources. In the past 26 years, the federal government has subsidized wind power with tens of billions of taxpayer dollars thru the production tax credit, or PTC. While originally intended to give the wind industry the kick start it needed, wind energy companies are still relying on the welfare of government PTCs.

Not to be discounted is the disruptive noise and visual pollution. Mr. Bartz refers to the Aermotor windmills of the 1930s causing more noise than today’s wind turbines. I grew up on a farm with a windmill. I don’t recall hearing the woosh-woosh of giant turbine blades or experiencing the shadow/flicker from a turbine perched 450-600 feet in the air. By Mr. Bartz’ own account, Worth County may soon have 287 wind turbines. How many Aermotor windmills existed in this same footprint?

We need regulation of wind energy companies to “protect and preserve the rights, privileges, and property of the county or its residents and to preserve and improve the peace, safety, health, welfare, comfort, and convenience of its residents” (Iowa Code 331.301). In Iowa, this regulation falls to the county and its zoning ability. Of the 99 counties in Iowa, only three do not have county wide zoning. Worth is one of these counties. Despite residents’ requests to address the regulations, Mr. Bartz and his fellow supervisors have failed to act. The county remains unregulated, and wind turbines are marching in with no required setbacks or decommissioning policies in place. Meanwhile the TIF money from the wind energy companies is being scooped up and spent by the supervisors.

If money is your prime objective, then yes, wind power makes sense in North Iowa. If undamaged drainage tile, non-compacted soil, use of aerial spraying for seed corn, scenic vistas, night skies void of red blinking lights, a yard without shadow from turning wind turbine blades, or a quiet bedroom for a good night’s sleep is what you value … not so much.

Julie Kuntz farms in Worth County and works as a clinical pharmacist in Mason City.