Rene Taylor of Ellsworth, IL details the story of how she and her family came to live within the footprint of a large wind energy installation and the impacts of the turbines on her family's health and general welfare. Ms. Taylor lives within 1500 feet of Horizon Wind's Twin Grove wind facility which at this writing consists of 240 utility-scale turbines.
Thank you for allowing me to submit testimony this evening. I live with my husband and children on a 4-acre homestead in rural Ellsworth, Illinois. Our property is located near three turbines, one of which is about 1500 feet from the North wall of our home, in the Twin Groves Wind Farm. In addition to living near turbines, one of the project's two electric substations is located about 870 feet from our East property line, and about 1000 feet from the east wall of our home.
We purchased our property in 2004. About two or three weeks before closing, the previous owner of our property contacted us to inform us he had received a letter inviting him to an open house for a wind farm that was coming to the area. He thought my husband and I might want to attend instead, since we were going to be purchasing the property.
We did attend the presentation, and though neither of us had heard of a Wind Farm before, we felt the project would be great for our area. We were told modern turbines made very little noise and it was very unlikely we would be able to hear them at all, especially above the noise of the wind. We were also told that shadow flicker would not be a problem and that it might occur for a few days a couple times a year when the sun was behind a turbine, but most homes would not be affected. We were actually excited that we might be able to view one or two turbines from our property. We had both seen turbines while traveling and thought they were kind of cool to watch.
The following year we received notice from McLean County that the zoning hearings for the wind farm would be held in early July, 2005. We were a bit concerned because the notice said Horizon was requesting a variance on the height of the turbines, at that time I believe there was a 200 or 300 foot limit, and also a variance that would allow turbines to be closer to several residences than the current zoning allowed.
At this point, we wanted to know exactly where the turbines would be in relation to our property and what other structures might be constructed near us. We contacted a representative of the wind developer in late June, 2005, to try and get an idea what would be around us so we could decide if we were going to raise any objections at the hearing. The representative told us there would be one turbine about 1500 feet from the wall of our home and that we would be able to see several others on the ridge north and east of our property. I asked if there would be any turbines in the field just west of our property and he said no. I then asked about the location of the electric substation and told him we did not want to live by that. I was told the substation would be located a couple miles east of us closer to the village of Arrowsmith. We were relieved but decided to attend all the hearings.
We did receive a neighbor agreement by mail to sign. Our family chose not to sign the agreement. The title of the agreement was "Memorandum of Wind Farm Neighbor Easement Agreement", and it stated, "Owner understands and accepts that operation of Generating Units may have some impacts on the Wind Farm's neighbors, including the Owners property." It went on to state that "Grantee wishes to obtain Effects, Sound and Shadow easements from landowners who are neighbors of the Wind Farm for the benefit of the Wind Farm and as an opportunity to provide Owner certain economic benefits to accrue from operation of the Wind Farm." The very things they had told us would not be a problem they were now asking us to accept by way of an easement in exchange for a small annual payment.
In March of 2006, we received another notice from McLean County for a hearing on a request to move the electric substation to section 12 of Dawson Township. Our property is located in Section 12. Again, we were concerned. We were totally unfamiliar with zoning laws and had no idea that if you receive a notice it's because your property is within close proximity to the area that will be affected by a zoning change.
We attended this hearing as well, and this time I asked several questions about the change. I asked how close property line to property line the substation would be from our property. The developer's representative answered that it would be about a ½ mile from our property. I also asked what kind of noise we could expect from the substation because we would likely have some noise from the turbines near us and now we'd have to deal with the substation too. We were told that it would be unlikely that we would be able to hear the substation.
With the information the developer had presented, we decided to raise no further objections to the purposed change. The village of Ellsworth is about ½ mile from our property, so we felt confident we could live with the change. The location change was approved by the zoning board.
Within a day or two of zoning approval, we noticed workers staking out an area near our home. It was very clear to us that this area was not ½ mile from us, so my husband and I took a measuring wheel and rolled off the distance from our east property line to the west line of the area that was being staked out. The measurement was about 870 feet, not the ½ mile we had been told.
At this point we no longer felt comfortable with anything the wind developer had told us. We contacted the county to see if we could object to the zoning change and we were told no, that we would have to wait for the County Board to vote on the matter and we could then file for an administrative review of the change.
Living with turbines has caused us to change many things in our lives. We often have to close windows during nice weather to avoid turbine noise in our home. This forces us to use air conditioning at times we would prefer not to. While we retain the use of our property, much of the time we are no longer able to enjoy it. We do what we need to do outside and hurry back inside, confined to our house to avoid the constant sounds from the turbines and substation. Even inside our home, we often still hear and feel the turbines.
This past winter, (which was our first winter), we experienced many days when we consider turbine noise excessive. On one occasion, we borrowed a Radio Shack sound meter to measure the sound level. Now we are aware that these sound meters are not extremely precise and we also know that we are not experts at taking sound readings, but the readings we were getting at the wall of our home were between 85 and 90 decibels.
We have found the sound from the turbines to be loudest at night and they cause us the most difficulty when the wind is from the south at 20mph or higher at the surface. We have experienced many occasions at night when no wind was blowing at the surface and the turbines noise was excessive because there were no surface winds to help mask the sound. When the winds are above 25mph, we no longer hear the swish or thump of the turbine blades, but hear a loud roar like a train running across the back of our property. These sounds can clearly be heard inside our home, though not as loud.
The noise issue has been most difficult for our 10 year old son. He has been diagnosed with high functioning Autism and is very sensitive to sound. At times he seems to fixate on the sound, often times noise the rest of us can't hear, and becomes fitful and hard to deal with. For lack of anything else to call it, he has uncontrollable tantrums and nothing we do, except taking him out of the area when it's bad, helps. As parents, we do everything humanly possible to ensure the safety of our children. You have no idea how heart wrenching it is to watch your child sitting on the floor with hands over their ears crying, saying "It hurts mom, can't you hear it, make it stop", and know there's nothing you can do!
Every member of our family has experienced difficulty sleeping, headaches, irritability, pressure in our ears and fatigue since the turbines closest to us began operation last May. Some in our family have also experienced heart palpitations. My youngest daughter tells me it feels like a hamster running inside her chest. My fourteen year old daughter has become very withdrawn, sullen and is very negative about everything. This is totally out of character for her as she was always happy and positive. We feel some of these symptoms are likely due to a lack of sleep and we do not experience them all the time.
As I stated earlier, the noise is most common at night and occurs often between 11pm and 4am. We are often awaken by the noise and find it very difficult, if not impossible, to go back to sleep. Our youngest children have begun to have nightmares that also wake them. Many of these symptoms do seem to occur at the same time we are experiencing noise from the turbines, but some do occur even when the turbines are fairly quiet.
Thank you again for allowing me to submit testimony. Please listen to the people of your Town and understand that some of them could be more profoundly affected than others.