ROYAL CENTER — An Ohio man fighting a wind project in his home county shared his experiences and advice Thursday night with residents of Cass County, where a similar project is proposed.
Jeremy Kitson, a high school physics and chemistry teacher living in Van Wert County, Ohio and one of the cofounders of Citizens for Clear Skies Van Wert, Ohio, spoke at the event.
Kitson told a crowd of about 200 at the Rogers Event Center in Royal Center that he's been researching industrial wind turbine projects ever since he heard of plans for one near his property about two and a half years ago. He also said he lives about 10 miles from Blue Creek Wind Farm, whose blueprint in Van Wert County includes 152 452-foot turbines.
Kitson emphasized a need for zoning that's fair for both participating and nonparticipating landowners in a wind project.
"The zoning laws in your ordinance are completely unsafe in my eyes," he said. "...You have to protect all landowners, not just people who have signed up for wind turbines."
Renewable Energy Systems, or RES, plans to bring as many as 150 turbines about 600 feet tall to northern Cass County. It will place the turbines with setbacks of at least 1,500 feet from residences, about 500 feet farther than what Cass County's wind ordinance calls for. The company intends to bring turbines to Miami County too.
Wind turbine setbacks should always be from property lines and never from residences, Kitson said Thursday night.
Cass County's wind turbine setback from property lines is the length of a rotor blade.
A statement from Vestas-American Wind Technology, Inc., the international turbine manufacturer's office in Portland, Oregon, reads, "In the rare case of abnormal operating conditions such as those caused by a force majeure event like heavy icing, Vestas’ Site Emergency Response Plan does specify a radius of 500 meters [1,640 feet] that should be temporarily evacuated and secured."
Kitson described the potential for such a radius to extend onto a nonparticipating landowner's property under Cass County's ordinance and RES' 1,500-foot policy as "trespass zoning."
Vestas' statement emphasizes such clearances are temporary and would not be required once the event is mitigated.
Brad Lila, development director for RES, said in an email Friday that other potential dangers associated with equipment would meet that definition of trespass zoning that people tolerate all the time, like natural gas pipelines, liquefied petroleum tanks, farming activities, gas stations, gravel pits, railroads, long-haul trucking operations, coal plants, nuclear plants and natural gas plants.
Kitson referred to a Michigan State University study Thursday that suggests public officials in charge of wind turbine setbacks consider implementing a range of options dependent on public sentiment. The study goes on to suggest a range of 1,640 to 3,280-foot setbacks.
"A community may be homogenous and in support of the project," the study states. "...In that case the 1,640 foot, or less, setback may be fine."
If a proposal leaves a community more divided, the study states a "3,280 foot setback may be more appropriate."
Cass County's wind turbine setbacks were adopted in 2009. Jim Sailors, president of the county commissioners and plan commission, has said changing them now would be unfair to residents looking to benefit by leasing land to RES.
Kitson encouraged attendees Thursday to ask RES for scientific backing as to why a 1,500-foot setback is appropriate.
When that was requested via email, Lila did not provide any data but wrote on Friday, "I would ask Mr. Kitson to provide scientific evidence to support why turbines should be setback further than tip height. Science is on our side to support that wind turbines are safe, clean and a great form of energy. Science does not support his position and it surely does not support the current form of energy generation."
Kitson also encouraged those who have been offered lease contracts by wind energy companies to hire an attorney to examine the agreement before signing. He went on to suggest landowners have their attorneys draft their own lease contracts to propose to the company.
Shadows and sound
Cass County's wind turbine ordinance needs to address how to limit and mitigate shadow flicker, Kitson also said.
The Michigan State University study he cited recommends setbacks of 2,500 feet from property owners not receiving money from wind energy companies in order to mitigate shadow flicker.
Cass County's wind turbine ordinance limits noise to 60 decibels.
That's too loud, Kitson said.
He also referred to claims that infrasound, or sound with frequencies lower than what humans can hear, have the potential to result in negative health effects defended by Alec Salt, Ph.D., Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
In the past Lila has pointed to studies concluding wind turbine infrasound does not negatively impact health, including one performed for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Property values and abatements
Kitson also said wind turbines can cause property values to decline, pointing to claims made by Michael McCann, a Chicago-based real estate appraiser, and Appraisal Group One out of Neenah, Wisconsin.
If RES is certain property values won't decline, Kitson said the company should issue a guarantee and agree to pay the difference in any potential future sale of a property that did lose value.
Lila responded in his email by providing a document published by the Energy and Policy Institute calling McCann's work "flawed" and that his studies "show no damage to property values" when using "appropriate statistical methods."
Lila also referred to a 2015 Supreme Court of Wisconsin ruling that sided with the state's public service commission, part of whose stance included that studies reviewed on wind farms' effects on property values were inconclusive.
Kitson encouraged attendees on Thursday to press public officials to be diligent when determining whether to grant RES tax abatements or payments in lieu of taxes. He admitted he'd find it difficult to oppose a wind turbine project with no abatement, considering the amount of tax revenue it would bring to a community.
When asked by phone about the potential for tax abatements on Dec. 26, Lila indicated that topic was part of ongoing negotiations over an economic development agreement between RES and the county.