GLENMORE - Glenmore's Plan Commission is sending a strong message to the owners of the Shirley Wind Farm: Stop annoying nearby residents, or risk losing your permit to operate in the town.
A group representing people living near the eight wind turbines says the recommendation doesn't go far enough. Meanwhile, the farm's operator says it is complying with the requirements of a conditional-use permit issued in 2012.
By a 6-0 vote, the commission recommended Tuesday that the Town Board direct Duke Energy Renewables to work to eliminate a phenomenon called "shadow flicker," an effect caused by the periodic shadows cast by rotating turbine blades.
Some people living near wind farms claim shadow flicker causes headaches, annoyance and stress. Other people, however, dispute such claims or say that the effects are minimal and dissipate quickly.
Under the recommendation, Duke would have 90 days to eliminate shadow flicker from the turbines in order to renew the conditional-use permit issued by the town. The commission also called on the town board to schedule a review of the permit in a year, and to require Duke to make it easier for residents to notify the company when shadow flicker affects their homes.
"You can get this done," commission chairwoman Ann Schaefer told Duke representatives Tuesday. "You've got smart people here. I think this can happen, and I think it's got to happen."
The Town Board, which is next slated to meet in early October, can accept or reject the recommendation. The board would also decide when the 90-day clock would start, and what the potential consequences of non-compliance would be.
Seve Deslauriers, speaking for Brown County Citizens for Responsible Wind Energy, said the recommendation doesn't do enough to protect area residents annoyed by shadow flicker.
"If you own a company that doesn't want to be inconvenienced by trivial things such as permits and regulation, Glenmore is the place for you," he said in an email Wednesday. "The town board continues to cater to Duke Energy while ignoring their own regulation and the property rights of their residents. Residents' call for the town board to actually enforce the regulation it drafted to eliminate shadow flicker on non-participating homes and land is not unreasonable; it is a central condition of the permit that allows Duke to operate.
"Hundreds of videos of proof have been supplied the town — each one giving them the authority to revoke Duke Energy's permit. Why won't Glenmore enforce the rules they wrote? Why do they prioritize Duke Energy over their own neighbors?"
In a statement Wednesday, Jeff Wehner, vice president of operations for Duke Energy Renewables, said the company strives to be a good neighbor while producing renewable energy.
He said opposition to the wind farm has been driven by a small number of opponents have "continually waged war against the project since we assumed operations in 2011."
“We believe our operations to be in compliance with the permit, as we have significantly reduced shadow flicker on residences," he said via email. "For example, we only received complaints from four homes in 2016, and we’ve taken every one of them seriously. We have gone over and above industry standards, using the best technology available, to prevent shadow flicker on neighboring homes. In fact, we have great relationships with most of the landowners and neighbors that surround the Shirley Windpower Project."
A day earlier, Duke officials had acknowledged that the wind farm's performance isn't perfect. But the company insists it uses the latest technology and has reduced the turbines' impact on people living near the site.
"Are there flaws? Absolutely … but we've gotten significant improvement on shadow flicker," said Ben Jordan, the operations director for Shirley who oversees several other Duke-owned wind farms. "The conversation is 'what else can we do to engineer the system to make it better?' But what we have is the best in the industry."
Duke officials said they have installed devices on two Shirley turbines to measure the potential for shadow flicker, and to quickly shut the windmills down at times when the flickering could be noticed in nearby dwellings. But some neighbors say that approach doesn't always work.
A report Duke provided to the town said the company received 46 complaints about Shirley Wind in 2012, 86 a year later, and reached 32 in 2014, 40 in 2015 and 22 in 2016, according to Schaefer.
The company also reported having received six complaints in the first part of 2017. Commission members, however, said that doesn't reflect recent complaints, such as six received from one address in mid-August.
The heart of the conditional-use permit restricts shadow flicker on inhabited structures in Shirley.
The commission also recommended that the Town Board direct Duke to work to improve communications with people who live near the wind farm.
Commission member Tim Rueth said the web page Duke set up to receive complaints from Shirley Wind's neighbors is difficult to use; another town official said it doesn't always work. And Rueth said some of the written responses the company has issued in response to complaints frustrate some neighbors because they seem "very cut-and-paste."
The company also has a voicemail set up for neighbors to report shadow-flicker issues by phone. Jordan said the company responds to those in writing, however, because telephone and in-person interactions with upset neighbors have been "difficult."
Previously, the Brown County Board of Health declared the wind farm a human-health hazard. But the county’s former health director concluded in 2015 that insufficient evidence existed to link the wind farm to people’s health issues.
What is shadow flicker?
Shadow flicker is the flickering effect caused when rotating wind turbine blades periodically cast shadows through constrained openings such as the windows of nearby properties.
A study published in Britain in 2011 concluded that the flickering "should not cause a significant risk to health, (but) in the few cases where problems have arisen, they have been resolved effectively using mitigation measures, in particular turbine shut-down systems."
SOURCE: Great Britain's Department of Energy & Climate Change