OSWEGO – Mel Hass of rural Oswego shared his experience with wind farms with Labette County commissioners on Monday.
He spoke an hour about living within the footprint of a 126-turbine wind farm in DeKalb County, Illinois, and his advocacy for laws that protect property owners, especially those who did not lease acreage to wind farm developers. Hass said if or when these developers come to Labette County he would like county commissioners to have wind farm regulations in place so that all parties know what to expect. Neosho Ridge Wind in Neosho County should serve as a learning tool, he said.
Hass wants the county to form a committee to study the issue and present findings and a recommended course of action to the commission. He also hoped the county could enact a moratorium for a year to allow the education process to progress, though he didn’t know if such action was possible.
Commissioners invited Hass to speak about his wind farm experiences as they hear more talk about wind farm development moving into the county. Hass’ presentation was moved to the courtroom on the third floor of the courthouse because about 20 people attended and there would not have been room in the commissioner’s meeting room.
Commission Chairman Doug Allen said he wanted Hass’ presentation to be educational and not advocacy.
“There’s a balancing of equities. We don’t want to stand in the way of development or economic growth. At the same time there’s other property rights or persons who may be impacted and don’t profit from it and their property rights have to be protected, too. So we want to get out in front of it, understand the concepts. It’s very, very complicated,” Allen said.
Hass shared with commissioners ordinances, agreements and studies he’s collected studying wind farms in a number of states over a number of years.
Hass said he understands the need for alternative energy, but these developments and the governing boards that approve them need to protect non-participating property owner rights as well. He attended Illinois Wind Working Group sessions in Illinois and learned from experts in acoustics and engineering over his years of study as well.
He was involved in developing a special use permit in DeKalb County that mandated a 1,400-foot setback for turbines from non-participating landowners’ house foundations in 2009.
In 2018, the county board realized that 1,400 feet was insufficient and approved an ordinance that further restricted wind farm developers.
The new setback, approved six days before Hass and his wife, Tina, moved to Labette County in late 2018, was 2,400 feet for 400-foot-tall turbines and 3,000 feet for 500-foot-tall turbines. These restrictions are from the property lines of non-participating landowners, not their house foundations.
This “allows them to develop their property further” if needed, Hass said. It’s less restricting than having that setback apply to the foundation.
He said the turbines were erected in his county in 2010 and he and his wife had horses on their property – “our home is our dream” – and lived within the footprint for as long as they could.
He showed a video he recorded from various points in and around his Illinois property. The turbines were a quarter of a mile or farther from his home, but they loomed large in the windows.
Hass said if you visit a wind farm in the day, you won’t hear anything at its base. The noise carries far away from the turbine in the shape of a cone. He said when the 400-foot-tall turbines were being built near his property in Illinois he could hear conversations of the workers on top of one of the nacelles about a half mile away.
“We could hear every word they said distinctly, as if they were right next to us carrying on a conversation,” he said. That would not happen if they were on the ground. The height of the turbine and dynamics created by the turbines carried their voices a greater distance.
He said you hear the “whoosh whoosh” of the turbines at night as the blades spin to produce energy when the earth cools and air flows near the top of the turbines. The sound is more objectionable if turbines are lined up rather than placed in random fashion.
Hass said turbines are louder in dense air, during high humidity, fog, snow and rain events. These conditions tend to amplify the sound, Hass said, sharing what he learned from his study and through spending time with acoustic experts.
“It’s a completely different noise the more dense the air is,” Hass said.
This noise during snow and rain impacted his horses because the sound was amplified inside the barn they would use for shelter. The horses didn’t want to go into the barn because of the sound so Hass said he had to lead the horses into the barn and close the door.
Chris Howell, an acoustic expert, explained to the Illinois working group why the turbines were louder at night because of the increase in air flow. Nighttime is when the turbines generate electricity. They get louder when you get off work or when you’re trying to get to sleep.
Hass said he experienced that first-hand. Wind farm developers compare turbine noise to a refrigerator. Hass said that’s not the case, at least not in his house. A national guideline is that the turbine noise should not exceed 45 decibels.
“At night, in my house, I could hear the noise of the turbines well over the noise of my refrigerator, which I didn’t hear,” Hass said.
The noise led to some sleepless nights. He and his wife had to move to the basement to sleep when it got too bad.
The noise reduced outdoor activities at night as well, he said. The Hasses hosted friends on their property but those gatherings ended when the turbine noise was too much for the guests.
Hass also discussed shadow flicker, the visual noise created when the sun is coming up or setting and the turbine blades are moving. He found this less objectionable than the nighttime noise, he said, until he discovered that flicker was waking him up early in the morning after he retired. He called it an annoyance.
The turbines also impacted his TV antenna and cell phone reception. They couldn’t watch TV. The wind company even offered to get satellite TV for them. Hass said even satellite wasn’t a solution because he noticed neighbors who had satellite TV at the bar watching important Blackhawk games.
“So that was not an overall solution.”
He had a home office so failing to get cell phone calls and messages was troubling. Once he left the wind farm footprint he would get phone messages and missed calls.
The flashing red lights on the top of the nacelles for aircraft also created effects inside Hass’s house. “That was annoying, both on the TV or spending time outside to have to see that constantly.”
The Hasses sold their house before moving to Labette County. The house was on the market for a time before a young man who studied to work on wind turbines bought it at a discounted price.
“I believe that a wind farm should not be allowed to dominate the landscape around the non-participating landowner in a 360 degree proximity around the house. A property owner should be allowed to have some visual relief in some direction from the dominating view of the wind farm,” Hass told commissioners.
Commissioners took no action on the presentation.
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