A petition signed by residents from 79 homes in Norway Township near Lake Mills against wind turbine construction in Worth and Winnebago counties was presented to Winnebago County Supervisors on Jan. 26.
A proposed wind generation development on private lands in Worth and Winnebago Counties is being planned and developed by Invenergy.
Supervisors plan to take up the issues raised again at future meeting and may bolster advance communications with members of the Winnebago County Zoning Board of Adjustment as well as Invenergy officials.
Matt Helgeson said he and neighboring residents in Norway Township are concerned about noise levels, potential health and sleep issues, loss of television, radio and satellite reception, lowered property values, and more. He stated that Invenergy broke ground on two turbines in Worth County and that County Supervisors and residents there were not aware.
“It appears the developers are clearly getting ahead of themselves if they are breaking ground on a project that has not been discussed or gained any sort of approval,” said Helgeson in regard to the Worth County portion of the overall wind project.
Helgeson read a letter from a Missouri woman whose family home has been surrounded by a 175-turbine wind farm, citing children being unable to sleep and steep property devaluations.
He started talking to his Norway Township neighbors late last summer, but did not contact five property owners that have entered into voluntary easements for turbines among 97 total homes in the northeast corner of the Township.
Helgeson said 81 percent of property owners there oppose the permitting and construction of wind turbines within one mile of their properties. A total of 273 people signed the petition provided to the Board.
“Previous permits in Winnebago County have allowed turbines to be placed within 1,600 feet of peoples’ homes,” said Helgeson. “We believe this is woefully inadequate and that stronger regulations can be considered to protect our property rights, health, safety, and well-being.”
Helgeson said that all across America, turbines are being erected without concern for nearby residents, health and sleep, safety, and property values.
Helgeson further cited Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) guidelines recommending a one-mile minimum setback distance from nature and wildlife areas.
The petition seeks turbine setbacks in the county that are at least one mile from non-participating residents’ property lines. Helgeson explained that non-participants are those residents that do not enter into an easement agreement for turbine generation or any settlement agreement with the developer/owner of a wind farm. Supervisors were also asked to consider a maximum decibel limit with Helgeson recommending a 35-decibel limitation.
Supervisor Bill Jensvold said several times that he is not a fan of the wind turbines, but that he also has concerns about telling landowners they cannot participate and earn money from it due to neighboring concerns. He noted that concerns were raised in the Rake area with about 50 percent opposing it prior wind turbine development there.
“I believe everybody in Rake gets $1,000 per year per house as a result,” said Jensvold.
But Helgeson maintains that the concerns of many are not related to money, although he acknowledges everyone would like to make money minus strings or consequences.
“The 79 of 97 homes is significant,” said supervisor vice-chair Susan Smith, who lives in rural Lake Mills. “I would like to see the DNR guidelines. If the DNR has concerns about lakes, wetlands, and public wildlife areas, we should have as much concern for people.”
Jensvold questioned if the IDNR concerns center more solely around migrating birds. He also noted calls that he receives regularly from constituents who tell him it would set a bad standard for the county to turn away the revenues associated with wind turbines being built.
He noted that Winnebago County has a special use permit, so it has authority to establish permit standards. The project in question would still have to go before the County Zoning Adjustment Board with a public hearing being held before any final sign-off or recommended changes by the Board of Supervisors.
A majority of Worth County is not subject to a special use permit being in place, so it is probably a more-friendly atmosphere for the turbine developers than most counties, Jensvold added.
All the Supervisors agreed there is a long way to go regarding the proposed project and concerns raised. They intend to be proactive in communicating with the Zoning Board of Adjustment and all other stakeholders to address the issues. The item will be listed on a future Supervisors meeting agenda and stakeholders will likely be asked to participate in-person or remotely once arrangements are made.
Magnifying any future decisions of the supervisors on this issue is the fact that if counties do not address local residents’ concerns through local planning and zoning regulations, the State of Iowa often cannot intercede on escalated complaints.
There are currently few resources in Iowa’s state government with sufficient jurisdiction for persons such as Helgeson and his neighbors to actually obtain relief for their situations.
One example is that the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) receives customer wind turbine complaints, but is not currently deemed to have generating certificate jurisdiction if wind farms are constructed in such a way as to not send more than 25 megawatts to a single electric gathering line (per State of Iowa statute).
More than 25 megawatts to a single gathering/transmission line from a generating facility requires a permit application to the IUB for a generating certificate.
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