BLUE EARTH — Faribault County commissioners heard from both sides of the wind turbine debate at their meeting on Tuesday.
The Oza Tanka Wind Project is a plan by EDF Renewable Energy to install 80 to 100 wind turbines within 18,000 to 20,000 acres in Barber Township. With construction set to begin in the spring of 2020, EDF is working with landowners to participate in the project. Participation is voluntary, with landowners compensated based on acreage and wind power. At least 1,700 acres of land have been leased for the project so far.
Jacob Salisbury, land acquisition specialist, and development director PJ Saliterman represented EDF Renewable Energy at the meeting to discuss recent changes to the project that are meant to better fit the needs of the community.
“In the spirit of being proactive, we’ve been asking ourselves how we can show that we are interested in making the program work for everybody,” Saliterman said. “We want to make sure that everyone in the community feels that they are being respected. We understand that wind turbines would be a big change on the landscape and not everyone is excited about that, but we also understand that a wind project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for family farms to secure their future.”
Changes to the program include restricting the wind turbines to at least 1,400 feet from residences not participating in the program. Saliterman also said the company will make its “best efforts” to honor the requests of landowners for 1,500-foot buffers, and will work with landowners to find the most cost-effective options when it comes to spraying their fields.
Saliterman told commissioners that company representatives are willing to come to meetings throughout the process in order to give updates and answer questions.
Concerned landowners and members of the community attended the meeting to voice their opposition to the project. Johanna Howcker, who rents land from a local farmer, spoke out against the project. She said her main concern is the eyesore of the wind turbines, as well as the noise pollution they can produce.
“I love living in the country,” she said. “I love my fruit trees and my berries, my animals, cats and dogs and I have a really nice lifestyle out in the country. I really want to continue that lifestyle without any interference of wind turbines. I just want to state the fact that I am 100 percent totally against the wind turbine program.”
Saliterman said that while the concerns of landowners in Faribault County are common when it comes to wind turbine installations, the amount of opposition for a project of this size is unusual.
“We find many communities that we work in where wind is warmly embraced,” he said. “There are always some folks that are not excited about change. Change is hard and we understand that some people just don’t like the looks of turbines and we can’t do anything about that. We’re just looking to work with people to find a reasonable compromise.”
Saliterman believes the large pushback from landowners is due to misinformation being circulated via social media.
To combat this, EDF has set up a number of informational events and opportunities to engage with the community. Having set up an office in the former Delavan High School building, the company will host donut and coffee hours to answer questions from the community.
Salisbury hopes the events and the open line of communication will help change public opinion.
“We’re ready to work with everybody here, we just need more feedback from the community,” he said. “You can’t really get away from the cosmetic standpoint of things, but if there’s something else that we can do we want to hear about it.”
Donut and coffee hours will be 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the former Delavan High School building on Nov. 8 and 15. An informational event will be held at the high school building at 6 p.m. Nov. 16.