The Winnebago County Board of Supervisors heard some concerns about a new wind turbine project in the works in the northern part of the county and decided to do some further research on the topic before making any decisions.
The Worthwhile Wind Energy Center is a proposed wind development in Worth and Winnebago counties on private land, according to a statement by the developer, Invenergy.
The Chicago-based company has been working with landowners since 2018, but it is not expected to be operational before 2022.
The 165-megawatt wind energy center project will be west of Northwood extending into Winnebago County, though the exact boundaries and acreages have not yet been determined, and could generate enough electricity to power an estimated 50,000 homes.
When built, the project will contribute an estimated $2 million into the local economy every year through landowner payments and new tax revenues.
The number and size of the windmills has not been determined yet, as the project is still in the development stage with ongoing engineering and working with the landowners.
One of the landowners, Matt Helgeson, who lives in Norway Township just north of Lake Mills by U.S. Highway 69, brought the project before the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors, saying he’s been tracking the project and found the project’s easement activities extend from the northern city limits of Lake Mills to the Minnesota border and as west as the Winnebago River.
With this, he brought some concerns before them, including audible noises and associated annoyances, decreasing property values for rural residents and infrasound, after researching the subject and, reading a lot of peer-reviewed literature and talking with local people.
“It’s become clear to me that this is sort of a national and a global issue,” Helgeson said. “The literature discussing these issues all acknowledge that there’s need for further research to ensure safety residency places near turbines.”
Helgeson said the turbines create audible noises that residents within a one-mile radius can hear.
“So it’s not only a rural issue, being prospective easement pretty much right on the city limits of Lake Mills as such if a turbine was placed there, then really a good portion of the City of Lake Mills could be affected by some of these annoyances,” he said.
Some people from a wind farm in Manchester, Minnesota, said the noise is loud and most annoying when they’re outside as it sounds like a lawn mower, according to Helgeson.
Additionally, the noise can cause sleep disruption, stress and irritability for many people, and the noise from turbines is relentless when the wind blows, Helgeson said.
Decreasing property value for rural residencies was another concern as many studies link wind turbines to decreasing rural residential property values while increasing farmland values, he said.
“Being my home is one of my biggest investments, I don’t feel that any chance of a decrease in property value is acceptable,” Helgeson said.
Infrasound, though, was Helgeson’s biggest concern, which is a low frequency sound emitted by wind turbines that the human ear cannot pick up and causes adverse effects on human health, including sleep disturbances, headaches, fatigue, dizziness, ringing in the ears and ear pain.
“This phenomenon has been well-known for decades but is still not fully understood, and so ongoing research continues to study this, but the symptoms of these things have been reported by residents all over this country, in neighboring counties and really all over the world,” Helgeson said.
Helgeson noted that while some people who live around turbines have these symptoms, not all people who live around turbines do, and it’s generally accepted that 10 to 30 percent of people who have these symptoms are in response to infrasound.
One of Helgeson’s friends had experienced the symptoms with his wife after a turbine went into service 1,100 feet from their doorstep a few years ago.
Between the infrasound and the shadow flicker, which caused additional disturbance, form the turbine, Helgeson said they decided to vacate their home and move elsewhere, a common decision by families living near turbines.
Helgeson brought forth a study that had 67 interviewees in a study on why some families living near turbines contemplate leaving their homes and 19 of the interviewees had left their homes while 21 were contemplating doing so.
Over the course of the study, 36 of the participants had left their homes intermittently over the day or night to alleviate their health effects, Helgeson said.
Some counties in Iowa have taken some steps to prevent these, such as a moratorium on wind turbine development in Madison and Hardin counties and a cap on the number of turbines in Darren County, according to Helgeson.
Helgeson said the turbines currently being proposed in the Worthwhile Wind Energy Center project are 600 feet tall, but that could not be confirmed with Invenergy as the project is still in its development phase.
Supervisor Chairman Bill Jensvold cautioned Helgeson, saying Invenergy has all kinds of studies and information that debunks all the information Helgeson presented and says the opposite.
“So now we’ve got to sit here and decide which ones are true,” he said.
Given his three concerns, Helgeson asked the Board of Supervisors to place a moratorium on new windmill projects, create a formal zoning ordinance with a one-mile setback from the residential property line of non-participating residents, not 1,600 feet residential buildings as is currently written in the county zoning ordinance, and have any future wind turbine projects be discussed at a public forum.
“Wind energy facilities will be present in our lives for the next 40 years,” Helgeson said. “I think we should make sure that our rural areas are safe and peaceful and that they encourage new families to the neighborhood and promote tourism. A little caution now will prevent a lot of heartache down the road.”
Supervisor Mike Stensrud said in light of the information Helgeson presented, they should look into the matter and do their due diligence.
“I think we better educate ourselves big time,” Stensrud said.
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