Sixteen months after three large commercial wind turbines started churning through the air near Fairmont, local residents and community leaders there say that there has been little negative reaction to the Bluestem Energy Solutions wind farm, due in large part to its location. That’s not the case, however, on an unrelated wind energy proposal in the southern part of Fillmore County.
The News-Register attended an open house event at the Fairmont site Nov. 12, venturing out to seek reaction from area neighbors and local government officials familiar with the project.
Jeff Neiman, chairman of the Fillmore County Board of Commissioners which approved Bluestem’s conditional use permit, reviewed the process while also offering observations as a neighboring business manager.
“We had public hearings on this project and didn’t have a lot of opposition to it,” Neiman recalled. “I did have a local spray pilot voice some opposition. Obviously because of the height they don’t like those structures going up.
“A few people voiced concern that they thought maybe it was going to be one of those huge wind farms,” he added. “Once those people were educated on what the project actually was it seemed to calm a lot of that.”
Neiman is also a manager at Circle 5 Feedlot, which sits within a half mile of one of the turbines. The wind farm’s proximity to industrial-type businesses, including an ethanol plant and corn processing plant, made it a logical site, in his view.
“The site here in Fairmont was ideal,” he said. “It’s an industrial area. It just fits the land scheme here and made sense.”
The Bluestem project was approved more than two years ago, though wind energy was on the Fillmore County board agenda again just last week. Neiman reported that commissioners voted the day of this interview to extend the required setbacks from 1,000 feet to half a mile.
“We had a possible project in the Milligan area, close to Saline County, and there is quite a bit of opposition on that one,” he said. “There are some local land owners who are for it and signed up for this, but there are some residents down there who are very much opposed.”
Bluestem Energy Solutions is not involved in that project, Neiman said, adding that EDF Renewables has since withdrawn its permit application. That project had proposed building nine turbines in Fillmore County and several more in nearby Saline County.
“The biggest thing was trying to limit how close these are to dwellings,” Neiman said. “Our setbacks, that was a big concern, as people who are already living there are not for it. Today we amended our setbacks (from occupied dwellings) to half a mile and I think that’s reasonable.”
Robert Galusha has no vested interest in the Fairmont project, but lives within a mile of one of the towers.
“I have no trouble with it at all,” Galusha said. “Personally, I think they are kind of neat. I hear the hum if the wind is just right, but I’ve lived around trains that go right by me and this is nothing to me.
“If I had a house right next to it I wouldn’t like that,” he added. “I think they should be put back away from any houses or businesses, so probably a half mile, or even a mile if possible, wouldn’t hurt. It’s just a situation where you need to use common sense and put them where it isn’t a problem with housing and people.”
Howard Leffler is the closest neighbor to the Fairmont wind farm, and because of that receives an annual lease payment from Bluestem.
“People have been concerned about the noise factor, but I walk out of my house and the only time I might hear them is if it’s a still morning and the wind is out of the north we might hear a switching sound,” he said. “Other than that, the noise is not an issue. As for the birds, to my knowledge, it’s been up a little over a year and I haven’t witnessed or seen any birds killed. I’m not saying they haven’t hit it, but I haven’t seen any. In all honesty, the only negative that’s got back to me is the airplane pilot who dusts crops.”
Steve Bradley also has no vested interest in the project. As an employee at Nutrien Ag Solutions, he drives by the turbines on Highway 6 every day and works within a half mile of the far west unit.
“The only thing we hear is a whoosh of the blades on certain days when the wind is in the right direction, but we’re used to it,” Bradley said. “Other times when the doors are open and the sun is just right you’ll see the shadow go across the workshop floor here, but that’s all we notice.”
Bradley said he has observed a larger shadow flowing across the highway on certain days. (See video on ANR Twitter feed, @NewsregisterANR)
“When driving along Highway 6 occasionally you will get that shadow flicking across the highway, which can be distracting,” he said. “Other than that, I’d say it’s been a non-issue here.”
Gene Nichols lives 2-1/2 miles from the closest turbine, but has farmland less than half a mile away.
“I was totally against it when they first brought it in,” Nichols admitted. “I didn’t want them to ruin the view, but I tell you I got used to it and they don’t bother me a bit now.”
Nichols said he still questions the efficiency and sustainability of wind energy in general, but has no qualms with the project next door.
“They make some noise, but I’ve never heard anything, but then I’m hard of hearing,” he said with a laugh. “The main thing was that I didn’t want them turning all the time in the skyline. We only have three, so if we had a lot of them it might bother me.”
A local landmark
Alan Janzen is a neighbor to the wind farm as owner of the Circle 5 feedlot. He worked closely with Bluestem during the construction process, offering eight acres for use as a staging area, and had good things to say about that experience.
“It was a good bunch of people and I thought it was very interesting to watch how they built (the turbines) and how much is underground,” he said. “Operationally, you just forget about them. They make a small amount of noise which I would say is not as loud as an irrigation engine. We can’t hear them when the well is on.”
Janzen also reported no negative impact on livestock, which stand within a half mile of the turbine.
As for the change in the local landscape, Janzen said he isn’t bothered by the turbines but won’t speak for others.
“To see them they are kind of a landmark now,” he said. “They haven’t been a problem and they don’t bother me personally, but I don’t know how others feel about them.
“People have various opinions about wind energy, but I know from my personal standpoint they’ve been very positive in getting a foothold as far as green energy production,” he concluded. “Small three- and four-tower projects like this are not very disruptive. I think it’s something that could work in a lot of areas.”
Neiman added one other thought in regard to concerns with the potential impact wind farms might have on local property values.
“With this project here, I don’t see any negative impact on property values,” he said. “If it was a bigger wind farm with 100 towers scattered across the horizon in a rural area then maybe I could see people have a point. With this project, no, I don’t think it will have any impact.”
Editor’s note: See related story with insight from Bluestem Energy Solutions officials comparing Fairmont project to proposal in Hamilton County.
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