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The boondoggle of Iowa’s industrial wind turbines

230 government entities in the US alone have banned or blocked industrial wind turbines at the urging of their constituents. Hundreds of homes are directly affected by every large industrial wind installation. These installations cast a long list of negative impacts for 2640 feet, at least that is the distance the wind companies will admit, yet they require county ordinances allow them setbacks from the foundation of homes to be merely 1200-1600 feet.

On average only 10% of the residents (page 32) who live in any large proposed wind installation will actively participate in the project even though all residents are offered money and hold-harmless contracts from the wind energy development company. The list of negative impacts in these contracts are blighted views, flashing FAA warning lights, turbines causing or emitting noise, vibration, air turbulence, wake, shadow strobing (flicker) and electronic signal interference. These contracts if accepted by residents also require the resident give an easement over their entire property and waive the right to a jury trial for future problems. This is hardly worth the couple of dollars a day offered to residents.

What do these contracts mean by “vibration, air turbulence and wake”? The turbines must be set far enough apart so they do not impact each other. The homes in between also receive those impacts- often causing residents to feel ill or uneasy. The contracts say both “to cause and emit noise”. The turbine generators noise emissions are rated at 110-115 dBA – same as the front seat of a rock concert. The companies ask to be allowed a dBA of 50-55 at neighboring homes. These limits are not monitored or enforced. The movement of the blades can cause noise much like a bullroarer does. Turbine noise has been recorded in homes 5.5 miles from turbines by Australian researchers. This noise as well as the unheard pressure can cause sleeplessness.

Industrial wind including their excess transmission lines complicate and hurt farming practices. The Rock Island Clean Line, a 500 mile proposed wind energy power line across Iowa and Illinois was only able to acquire 8% voluntary easements after 4 years of asking because farmers do not like power lines or turbines in their fields. Iowa and Illinois residents defeated the line. Construction ruins farmland for generations. Crops may grow but once the ground is compacted or soil layers are mixed they will yield far less. Farmers have reported continuing crop loss around wind turbines after 12 years. Aerial applications for spraying or seeding cover crops is impeded hurting both the economy of the farm and of the county.

Many people believe that we are developing wind energy to cut carbon emissions but in Iowa our emissions from power plants rose 3% during 2016-2017 with thousands of turbines already built. That same year our emissions from industrial processes, likely from building wind turbines, grew 31%! Even the roughly 2 million pounds of concrete in each turbine base emits CO2 at almost pound for pound. In 2020 our emissions will surely rise again as we close the carbon-emissions-free Duane Arnold nuclear plant fifteen years early and replace it with a mix of industrial wind and natural gas or coal. Natural gas has half the carbon emissions of coal. Iowa’s fall in carbon emissions has as more to do with switching some of our power plants from coal to natural gas than our move to wind energy.

Iowa’s rural electric co-ops still cannot afford to build new industrial wind turbines, being tax-exempt the tax credits do nothing for them. Iowa’s Alliant Energy has raised rates 24.9% to build wind turbine infrastructure and pay $110 million to be released from the power purchase agreement they had with the Duane Arnold nuclear plant. They raised rates even though they receive the same tax credits MidAmerican will. MidAmerican Energy has seemed to be able to afford to build industrial wind without raising rates but they did enjoy $10 billion in tax credits to do it. MidAmerican’s owner Warren Buffet has publicly admitted that the only reason to build wind turbines is for the tax credits. In 2015 the Iowa Utilities Board asked MidAmerican to return more of that money to the ratepayers of Iowa who will shoulder 100% of the risk for turbine projects. MidAmerican complained to then Governor Branstad. Branstad changed the composition of the Iowa Utilities Board to “appease MidAmerican thus sending a message to the Board and its staff to get in line and approve anything that the utilities, particularly MidAmerican, bring to it.” –Sheila Tipton, from her published open letter to Governor Branstad.

Counties often admit they are allowing wind turbines for the property tax revenue they bring. Iowa Code 427B.26 outlines the tax payment schedule. The first year a wind installation is running they pay no taxes. The second year they will pay 5%, the third 10%, increasing by increments of 5% until they are forever capped at 30% in year 8 while each and every turbine is raking in about $300,000 a year in tax credits. Communities will see about $10,000 per turbine in year 8. This is after the heavy equipment takes value out of our roads, compromises our tiling infrastructure, compacts our world class farm ground and the turbines lower home values of hundreds of residents.

Industrial wind turbines do kill our eagles, other birds and threatened/endangered bats. This past year MidAmerican Energy applied for a permit with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to kill these animals with 2020 of their wind turbines. They finally applied for this permit after 20 years of having wind turbines. No other turbine company in Iowa has yet decided it is even necessary to get a permit for killing animals with their turbines. With organizations like the Sierra Club firmly standing with companies like MidAmerican there is no one to make sure that wind installations are held accountable.

The reason Iowa has industrial wind installations is that rural communities don’t have the power of a recall election, do not have the power of referendum and don’t even have the protections of the Iowa Utilities Board. Iowa’s Supreme Court made a surprising ruling recently that only our County Supervisors, lacking any kind of expertise or qualifications will be allowed to regulate wind projects, not the Iowa Utilities Board which means that the wind companies just regulate themselves. During depositions for a lawsuit that was filed in this matter one Supervisor admitted that he felt threatened by MidAmerican and their partner Invenergy. Counties often vote out wind supporting Supervisors but it is too little, too late. The only county in Iowa that has a decent industrial wind ordinance is West Des Moines’ Dallas County. They do have setbacks of 2640 feet and noise limits of 30 dBA no industrial turbine could ever honor. This effectively blocks any project from being built.

Now our Federal government is proposing that we extend tax credits for wind turbines another year. Understand when the tax credits begin, they run for 10 years. Any turbine that is built this year will receive 100% of the tax credit because of mechanisms like Safe Harbor. The tax credits are not ending. It is only the start of the tax credits that is ending. Industrial wind turbines in the US have been 100% paid for with our taxes. There are 59,338 wind turbines in the US receiving an estimated average of $4,000,000 each. If these other projects are receiving the same money that MidAmerican has admitted to that is $237,352,000,000. Industrial wind now only intermittently supplies 2-3% of the power in the US.

Our investor owned utility companies are incredibly powerful and wealthy. They like to build as much infrastructure as we will let them because they will receive an 11% guaranteed rate of return. Please look past the politicians and the few people being offered money to host these installations on land where they neither live nor farm and hear us. Stop to consider the atrocity that this is for the quiet, often disconnected residents of rural America. We are US citizens, we are tax payers and we are ratepayers. Our businesses and homes mean as much to us as yours means to you. People may believe that where we live there is plenty of room for all these projects but it is simply not true. Iowa only has 1% of the US population yet we have already covered well over one million of our acres with industrial wind installations, the same area as 3½ counties and only reached 37% in wind energy for our electricity usage. Can you imagine what 100% would look like?

Janna Swanson
Ayrshire, Iowa
Coalition for Rural Property Rights president
National Wind Watch board member
Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance member