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Page County residents explore impacts of wind energy development

CLARINDA – The impact of potential large-scale wind energy development in Page County was the focus of a meeting Aug. 27 in Clarinda.

A coalition called Page County Property Rights conducted the event, which took place in the show arena on the county fairgrounds.

Appearing were speakers who commented on issues related to the construction and operation of wind turbines on rural properties.

The health effects on individuals living near the turbines were reviewed by Ronni Scott, a retired pharmacist and a former member of the Madison County Board of Health.

She said that along with the audible noise caused by the turning of the turbine blades, the structures also produced what is known as “infrasound.”

“This is a low-frequency noise, and it can be felt,” Scott said. “It’s like a vibration.”

The result is that individuals subjected to this kind of sound can develop a type of “acoustic disease,” she said.

In addition, Scott said, the “shadow flicker” from the blades passing over the illumination from the sun at different times during the day can be disorienting, as can the lights on top of the structures at night.

In some sections of Madison County, she said, people whose homes were near the turbines decided to abandon their houses rather than remain in them.

Mike and Tanya Lamb live in rural Adair County, and there are about 80 turbines near their property.

Tanya cited the noise from the structures as an ongoing problem for her family, making it difficult for them to sleep.The shadow flicker from the blades adds to the discomfort.

“There is a constant beating, vibrating noise,” she said. “And we can feel the pressure on our ears.”

Mike said “the noise never quits.” The silence that once existed in the countryside where the family lives “is now gone,” he said. “We will never get it back.”

On some occasions, Tanya said, the family felt compelled to leave their house for a time in order to get away from the turbines.

“You won’t understand it until you have lived it,” she said.

The effect that the presence of wind turbines has on the value of a property was discussed by Nicholas Scar of Iowa Realty in West Des Moines.

He said estimates have concluded that values decline by as much as 45 percent in some cases.

“The property also spends more time on the market,” he said.

The construction of multi-acre wind energy complexes has also been linked to reduced water quality and increased pollution on nearby land, Scar said. That further contributes to lowered property values in a particular area.

Resident Jane Stimson said representatives of wind energy companies have been contacting individuals in Page County as part of efforts to get landowners to sign easements for the placement of turbines.

One tactic that the representatives are utilizing, she said, is to tell someone that “their neighbors are signing up, so why don’t you do it too” – when, in reality, that may not be the truth.

Wind energy projects are underway in southwest Taylor County, near the boundary with Page County, and in Nodaway County, Missouri.

Complexes are also operating in Atchison County, Missouri. Support for wind energy has been expressed there because the county lacks traditional job-producing industries, and wind development is seen as a boost for economic activity, Stimson said.

But in Page County, she said, “I would rather have jobs and industry,” and not wind turbines.

Resident Jacob Holmes reviewed Page County’s current wind energy ordinance, which was adopted by the Board of Supervisors in October of 2019.

Under the measure, there are two ways a turbine can be placed in regard to a “non-participating” landowner.

If no home is present, there must be 1.1 times the height of the turbine from the property line, as calculated from the center point of the base of the structure.

If a home is present, the setback is to be 1,500 feet from the center point of the turbine base to the nearest point of a residence “which is able to be occupied” and exists as of the date the wind project application is submitted

The result, Holmes said, is the creation of a “danger zone” that prevents non-participants from using portions of their land.

The setback, he said, should be from the turbine to the property line.

“I’m not anti-wind,” said Holmes, who is a candidate for county supervisor in the November election. “But I believe we must defend individual liberty and property rights.”

If wind energy development cannot “be done fairly, then it should not be done,” he said.

Brian Tally, who lives in the East River area, was approached by officials from a wind energy company who wanted him to sign an easement.

He said he was told that his land was being considered as part of a project that would include 53 turbines. If he signed a 57-year lease, his compensation over that period would total about $250,000.

“That’s a lot of money,” he said. “But what are you willing to give up? The quiet? The normal sounds of farm life?”

Tally decided not to sign the lease.

He also commented on other issues related to wind energy,

The industry, he said, has benefited from tax credits that, essentially, reimburse companies for constructing turbine complexes in rural areas.

There are also costs associated with “decommissioning” the turbines, or taking down, dismantling and disposing of the towers and blades when the components have reached the end of their useful functioning.

The expenses for this process, Tally said, have been estimated at between $250,000 and $300,000. “And there is also hazardous material left over,” he said.

Regarding the signing of contracts for easements, Tom Reavely, an attorney with the firm of Whitfield and Eddy in Des Moines, said landowners considering such action should “read that lease very carefully.”

“The contract is one-sided,” he said, adding that the document is routinely written for the advantage of the wind company, not the landowner.

Once a lease is signed, Reavely said, “it stays with the land and passes on to the buyer, who is then bound by the easement.”

In addition, a contact can cover not just where a turbine is placed, but an entire farm.

“You could sign away a lot of your rights,” said Reavely, who has been involved in litigation against utility companies and has represented clients contending they have experienced adverse effects from proximity to turbine projects.

Also at the meeting, resident Marci Fulk read an account from a friend, Sherri Hunter, detailing health problems, such as sensory dysfunction, that Hunter’s child endured from living near turbines.

Resident Jerry Wagoner said the coalition would continue to provide information about wind energy development – by talking directly to Page County landowners and by expressing views to elected officials.