CLEGHORN – The Clear Creek Town Board will draft a moratorium on wind energy development at its meeting next week in response to overwhelming demand from town residents who attended a meeting Tuesday night about a proposed wind farm in southern Eau Claire County.
More than 100 people showed up at an informational meeting Tuesday night at Clear Creek Town Hall to share their views about the potential wind farm, with many calling for a moratorium to give residents more time to study the pros and cons on wind energy.
The vast majority of the dozens of residents who spoke expressed concerns about health and safety – mostly related to sound, light flicker and stray voltage – that have arisen among neighbors of other wind farms in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Others said they were worried about the impact on wildlife, water quality, aesthetics and relationships among divided town residents.
Resident Mary Judd called the proposal by RWE Renewables Americas to build a wind farm valued at more than $200 million a “gut punch” that would alter her beloved landscape beyond repair.
“I knew from the beginning that I was not willing to take the risk of what we hold dear going away,” Judd said.
RWE is exploring the possibility of pursuing the massive project with 40 to 70 wind turbines on about 20,000 acres of farmland in the towns of Clear Creek and Pleasant Valley. The proposed site is west of U.S. 53, east of Highway 93 and south of Cleghorn.
RWE wind development manager Eric Crawford, who attended the meeting and calmly answered questions from the sometimes emotional standing-room-only crowd, said company officials selected the site because of the prevalence of agricultural land, adequate wind and a Wisconsin political climate viewed as supportive of pursuing sustainable energy sources.
Crawford, who wore a “Wind Energy Benefits Us All” button, stressed that the proposal is in the exploratory stage and that the company will hold more open houses and public meetings to provide information and answer questions.
Even if they gain all the necessary approvals and commitments, RWE officials don’t foresee starting construction on the Eau Claire County project before 2023, Crawford said.
In addition to the advantages of green energy, Crawford noted that the project also has the potential to provide a stable source of income to struggling farmers who allow the company to place the 500-foot-tall turbines on their property.
A few landowners, including farmer Katie Weir, expressed support for the proposal. Weir, who indicated she plans to sign a turbine contract, said she envisions an ugly future with environmental problems caused by dependence on fossil fuels and doesn’t want her kids to say their parents never did anything to help.
“I see an opportunity for what this can do for people,” she said, referring to the financial and environmental benefits.
Representatives of RWE Renewables, a subsidiary of Essen, Germany-based RWE AG, have met with county officials and residents of the proposed site to discuss preliminary details of the proposal and potential compensation.
On top of lease payments to landowners who agree to allow the company to place the 500-foot-tall turbines on their property, RWE projects it would make payments totaling about $26 million to Eau Claire County and the two towns over the 30-year life of the project, Crawford said recently. Plans call for 60 percent of that money to go to the county and 40 percent to the towns.
Town resident Dave Otto told the crowd he had signed a contract “like a fool” to host a wind turbine on his land without reading it all.
“I’m really worried now,” Otto said.
Other residents said they feared, based on their research, that the wind turbines could kill many bats and birds, including bald eagles, and drive away deer.
Crawford assured residents the company would take steps to minimize any negative effect on wildlife, adding that concern for the environment is the driving force behind its push for renewable energy.
One resident said he feared the controversy over the wind turbines would turn into a civil war, pitting neighbor against neighbor.
“Your nice little close-knit community is going to be shattered,” he said.
The proposed 200-megawatt wind farm would boost Wisconsin’s total wind energy production, now estimated at about 737 megawatts, by more than 25 percent, according to the renewable energy advocacy group Renew Wisconsin, which advocates wind energy because it generates no carbon emissions or pollution.
RWE’s proposal calls for placing turbines between a third of a mile and a full mile apart and setting them back at least 1,500 feet from the homes of neighbors who aren’t participating in the project, Crawford said.
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