MidAmerican Energy says a Madison County proposal that would require turbines be built 1.5 miles away from the nearest home would “wipe out” wind development in the state, if other counties were to follow suit.
Iowa’s largest investor-owned utility is fighting a Madison County Board of Health recommendation that turbines be built farther from homes.
The board says current commercial wind turbine distances are “inadequate to protect public health.”
However, the proposed setback “would completely wipe out any future wind development in Iowa,” if other Iowa counties were to adopt the greater distance requirement, said Adam Jablonski, director of MidAmerican’s renewable energy program.
The proposed setback is five times larger than MidAmerican has proposed for its 52-turbine wind farm in northwest Madison County.
Jablonski spoke at the Madison County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, along with about a dozen residents, who both support and oppose the wind development.
Supervisors haven’t taken action on the health board’s recommendation, but they did agree to hold a public hearing Sept. 10 to consider a moratorium on wind and solar development through January 2022, while the board considers new rules.
The moratorium wouldn’t affect MidAmerican’s proposed wind farm, which already had county approval, but the project is tied up in a citizens’ lawsuit that is currently under appeal.
The fight in Madison County has emerged as controversy around turbines has grown. Iowa utilities are rapidly adopting wind energy, taking advantage of federal tax credits and promoting the environmental benefits that Apple, Google and other tech companies in Iowa welcome.
Thirty-seven percent of the state’s electricity comes from wind, the largest share in the nation.
Jablonski told supervisors Tuesday that the World Health Organization’s noise study, which the health board used for its setback recommendation, states there is “no clear evidence on an acceptable and uniform distance between wind turbines and residential areas.”
The health board took action without “thoroughly and objectively reviewing everything that was presented to them over multiple meetings,” Jablonski said.
Kevin de Regnier, a Winterset doctor and health board chairman, said Tuesday that a board member referred to the wrong study in making the recommendation.
But it was understandable after reading “hundreds of pages” of reports over about eight months.
“The board took this very seriously,” de Regnier said. “It was done with great study, significant public input and scientific study.
“We’re charged with protecting the health and welfare of Madison County. The board was clear that we did not conclude that there was a health risk.
“We concluded that there was the potential for a health risk, and that potential warrants caution going forward,” de Regnier said.
Ben Johnson, a cardiologist who lives in Dexter, said no study has shown that wind turbines are safe for people living nearby.
“Industrial wind turbines have never been proven to be safe, nor free of adverse health effects,” he told supervisors.
“This is important because, if science had proven that no adverse health processes could be detected with wind turbine exposure, through rigorous and objective means, then you could fairly state that industrial wind turbines are safe,” Johnson said.
Jablonski said that Iowa has 4,800 wind turbines in the state and that some have operated for two decades without nearby residents getting ill.
“MidAmerican alone has more than 2,600 operating wind turbines across Iowa, with thousands of people living within close proximity of them,” he said. Complaints “are few and far between.”
He pointed to a review by three Iowa groups of health studies around wind energy that was released in January.
The researchers said there is little scientific evidence to support residents’ concerns that turbines’ sound and flickers are hurting their health.
Turbine neighbors complain that the turbines’ sound and spinning blades cause headaches, nausea, sleep disturbance and other health problems.
The group’s paper said research studies found that sound from wind turbines may be annoying, but no adverse health effects have been established.
Shelley Marsh, a Madison County resident who opposes the turbines, said she’s gotten sick from turbines near her home.
“If I’m out in my yard, I can get dizzy. It’s almost like car sickness. I’ve had to quit what I’m doing and go vomit,” said Marsh, who said a dozen or so turbines are within about two miles from her family’s home.
At a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds said farmers and local governments welcome the added income from wind turbines. For example, MidAmerican has an existing wind farm in Madison County, which is expected to generate $38 million over about three decades.
But, she said, it’s up to local governments to determine how they operate
“They’re the ones that grant them and can make the decision not to,” Reynolds said.
Register reporter Stephen Gruber-Miller contributed to this story.