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Iowa wind-turbine health concerns: Gov. Reynolds says she will listen but backs industry

DES MOINES – Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday she supports the wind industry as a key component of Iowa’s renewable energy portfolio but she is willing to consider concerns from citizens who believe wind turbines pose a health risk and want their use restricted.

Reynolds told reporters she has heard from Iowans – some who are worried about negative health effects from wind turbines and others who back clean energy as a way to create jobs and attract businesses.

As of now, she said, she backs Iowa’s wind industry “until I see data to show us otherwise.”

The issue moved to the forefront this week when Madison County supervisors began considering a moratorium on wind turbines and requiring setback restrictions to keep them 1.5 miles away from any residence.

Board members took up the matter based upon concerns raised by the county board of health, which cited scientific literature highlighting health problems such as headaches or nausea associated with “infrasound” waves created by turbine movements and “flicker” strobe effects caused by the sun reflecting off turbine blades.

However, officials with the Iowa Environmental Council and MidAmerican Energy, which has nearly 2,600 wind turbines in Iowa, have disputed the claims and point to research indicating there is “no authoritative scientific evidence that sound from wind turbines represents a risk to human health among neighboring residents.”

Study results, however, indicated evidence the turbines can cause annoyance.

“There are some people who say they are annoyed by wind turbines, and we understand that. However, we strongly dispute that it causes any ill health effects,” said MidAmerican Energy spokesman Geoff Greenwood, who noted no other county officials in Iowa have raised similar concerns since the company began its wind-energy program in 2004.

Angelisa Belden, director of communications for the Iowa Environmental Council, said wind energy results in “a net positive benefit to human health compared to the well-documented negative health and environmental impacts of burning fossil fuels.”

The council, she said, urges elected officials to base public policy decisions on sound science.

“The spread of misinformation about wind turbines can actually be the cause of the anxiety and discomfort people experience, which makes it even more important to ensure policymakers are using credible information sources,” Belden said.

Asked about the situation at her weekly news conference, Reynolds said she wanted to review the data and was willing to meet with both sides for further discussions before proceeding with policy considerations.

“I’m not in a position to say yes or no,” said the governor, who one day earlier had signed a proclamation recognizing the wind energy industry and declaring this week as “wind week” in Iowa.

“I don’t have all the facts in front of me, so if they want to sit down with me and they want to talk to me about some of the information that they’ve been gathering, I’ll meet with them,” she added. “We’ll continue to meet with them, we’ll continue to look at it and we’ll see what the data show, but right now I’m proud of where we’re at, proud of the industry, proud to be a leader in renewable.”