Members of the Missouri Public Service Commission heard from members of the public on the possible positives and pitfalls of a proposal to bring a wind farm to Adair and Schuyler counties at a meeting Tuesday in Schuyler County’s elementary school.
To move forward, the project will need approval from the Pubic Service Commission, an independent body that evaluates utility requests. If constructed, the site, called the High Prairie wind farm, would be the largest such location in Missouri.
Some residents testified to the project’s likely economic benefits, citing high levels of poverty in Schuyler County and a desire to keep Missouri energy dollars in Missouri. TerraGen has estimated that the wind farm could create up to 400 temporary jobs in the region, and approximately 30 permanent jobs. Additional revenue gained through lease payments to landowners could also benefit the economy.
Ajay Arora, vice president of environmental services and generation resource planning at Ameren Missouri, also attended the hearing to answer questions from residents.
Schuyler resident James Sidwell spoke in support of the project, saying its economic benefits were badly needed in the county.
“Our rain has stopped falling, but our wind is still blowing,” Sidwell said.
Carolyn Chrisman, the director of Kirksville economic development organization K-REDI, said her organization supports the project.
“Our group has been very happy with the way the High Prairie wind farm project has been done in such a positive manner,” Chrisman said.
Chrisman said K-REDI is excited that Ameren wants to invest in Adair and sees the company as “a valued member of our community.” One member of the K-REDI board, secretary Annette Sweet, is an employee of Ameren Missouri.
Chrisman also said K-REDI would support a change in law to keep the tax benefits of the project in Adair and Schuyler counties. Currently, the tax benefit would be distributed across the state, as Ameren is a utility company, but some have proposed a legislative amendment to make wind farms an exception and keep tax dollars in the counties that house the facilities.
A statement of support for the project from the Kirksville City Council was also entered into the record.
State law mandates that 15 percent of Ameren’s energy come from renewable sources, which could include sources like wind, solar and nuclear power.
“Wind energy has really advanced in the industry over the last five years,” Arora said.
Arora said TerraGen will place all wind turbines at least 1,500 feet from residential buildings, which goes beyond the energy standard of 1,000 feet.
In response to a question from the audience about tax benefits Ameren would receive by adding the wind farm to its portfolio, Arora said that amount would come to approximately $400 million over ten years. However, he said, those savings would be passed along to the customers via rate adjustments.
“All the production tax credits go back to the customers,” Arora said.
Arora said the tax credits will prevent costs for Missouri customers from raising at any point during the construction process.
“That’s why we are investing in wind energy right now, as opposed to doing it five or six years earlier when the costs were really high,” Arora said. “Now, with the technology, costs coming down, as we have looked out over the life of the asset, we expect this to actually benefit customers. It should reduce costs in the future, based on the projections we have.”
Studies are currently being conducted to determine how wind turbines would affect wildlife in the area, including any endangered species, and how those effects could be minimized.
Toward the end of the question and answer session, a woman in the audience asked if any research had been done into the effects of “infrasound.” Arora said he was not an expert in the area and would have to look into it.
“Infrasound,” meaning sound that is typically outside the range of human hearing, is one of several contentious issues that surround wind turbine construction. Some people living near wind turbines have claimed ill health effects supposedly linked to infrasound emissions, including nausea, headaches, sleep loss and anxiety. The problem is called “Wind Turbine Syndrome” by Nina Pierpoint, a physician who has argued for its existence.
A review of 25 studies by the Sydney University Medical School found no evidence of a connection between wind farms and any physical ailments. But that has not stopped wind turbines from being unpopular with some who live near them.
Kyle Carroll, a DeKalb County resident, said he drove two and a half hours to offer a word of caution at the meeting about wind farm construction, which he said had become a major topic of controversy in his community. DeKalb is currently home to 97 wind turbines, which are not operated by TerraGen or Ameren.
“The reason that Ameren is here, and not in St. Charles County or one of the places close to St. Louis where you wouldn’t even have to build a transmission line, is that they’re not putting this project here because there’s a lot of wind, they’re putting it here because there’s not a lot of resistance,” Carroll said.
Carroll was one of several people who made the journey from DeKalb County to voice their opposition to wind turbines. While a handful of people from Schuyler voiced concerns about the project, the majority of skeptics were from DeKalb. All said wind turbine projects were about tax credits for companies, not benefits for communities.
Johnny Walker, another DeKalb resident, said wind “has many issues.” One of those, he said, is known as “shadow flicker,” a phenomenon in which the blades of turbines cast shadow patterns that can resemble a strobe light. Some believe the effect can cause headaches; Walker said that in DeKalb, it poses a distraction to motorists, and a red flashing light is also visible at night.
Walker also said he has recorded noises from the wind turbines up to 100 decibels, comparable to the noise level of a jet takeoff or motorcycle engine, at his home. He cited environmental effects and decreased property values as other concerns.
“Wind turbines are something that this rural community should be without,” Walker said.
Wind energy has long been a source of controversy. Their value as an investment is controversial. According to the U.S. News and World Report, investor Warren Buffett, who has constructed hundreds of wind turbines, said in 2014 that tax benefits are “the only reason” to build them.
Its efficiency is also in debate. According to a 2018 analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, wind energy is less efficient at energy conversion than other sources, like coal or nuclear power, and needs large lands areas to operate – and of course, it only works when it’s windy.
However, a Department of Energy report released in 2017 found that wind is now one of the cheapest sources of energy in the U.S. and that competition is driving prices lower and technology to improve.
DeKalb resident Kim Tindel said wind turbines near her property mean her family has to “live with our blinds pulled.”
“A handful of landowners have dictated our way of life,” Tindel said. “We didn’t move to the country to live in an industrial nightmare, and it’s devastating.”
Dan Thompson, a representative of TerraGen, said the response to the project from area landowners has been positive. Arora also said that the community response has, overall, been encouraging and welcoming.
Public Service Commission commissioner Scott Rupp said it was heartening that so many people attended the hearing.
“I’m very pleased to see this much community interest, whether it’s pro or against,” Rupp said. “It helps us to get a feel for what is really going on in the community.”
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