Supporters and detractors of the proposed Freeborn Wind Farm discussed their views Tuesday during a public forum at Albert Lea Armory.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission hearing, attended by dozens of community members, was in regards to a planned 200 megawatt wind farm in southeast Freeborn County and north Iowa. Evidentiary hearings for the wind farm are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. today and Thursday.
Linda Herman, part owner of a third-generation farm in the path of the wind farm, said though supporters of the project list its benefits, they are only telling half the story. She expressed concern about possible changes the wind farm will cause in over-the-air TV, radio, internet and cellphone service, along with the possible harm the turbines will have on farm animals and wildlife.
Herman predicted property values in the area of the project could decrease and asked the Public Utilities Commission to reject the project until the distances between wind turbines and homes in the project area are increased.
Albert Lea resident Kip Hardison said he supports the project, adding when he recently drove by an Iowa wind farm, they seemed “relaxing” and “majestic.”
Hardison said though there has been opposition to the project, it provides clean, free, affordable energy and benefits landowners and Freeborn County. He said arguments against the project have not been logical.
“Simply saying something and believing it wholeheartedly does not make it true,” he said.
Hardison questioned whether detractors would be against the plan if they were financially compensated.
The Public Utilities Commission issued a draft site permit in January. The turbines are expected to be in London, Shell Rock, Hayward and Oakland townships. Twenty-five to 49 turbines are expected to be in Minnesota, with the remaining balance planned for Iowa.
Invenergy is developing the project, with Xcel Energy planned to eventually take it over to build and operate it. The wind farm is under contract for operation in 2020.
It has been estimated each turbine will generate enough power for about 700 homes, with each turbine in Freeborn County to generate about $9,000 in local tax revenue — 80 percent to Freeborn County and 20 percent to the township the windmill is in.
Doreen Hanson said Freeborn County would not reap the entire estimated $3.5 million to $4 million yearly tax base benefit from the project and expressed concern about possible noise, shadow flicker, sleeplessness and aggravation of pre-existing conditions she said could be caused by the wind turbines.
“We live in rural America,” she said. “We chose to live in rural America.”
KAAL News Director Dan Springer said Invenergy needs to alleviate any possible issues the wind turbines could cause to on-air signals to prevent people from losing access to the station.
Dan Litchfield, Invenergy senior manager and project developer, said the project would provide a stable, low-cost source of energy that allows farmers who own land the turbines are on to hedge against losses they suffer in farming. He estimated 200 jobs would be created during construction of the wind farm, with 10 new positions in place during operation.
Worth County resident Merlin Bartz, who has wind turbines on his property, requested the project be approved and said wind farm development has substantially increased Worth County’s tax base and created jobs. Though there were difficulties a different wind farm initially posed, the benefits of the project surpassed the difficulties it caused, he said.
Brian Olson, who lives outside Glenville, said he is “opposed to the proposed Freeborn wind project.” He said he was concerned about the noise levels of the wind farm and its possible interference with TV, radio and cellphone service and property values.
Olson expressed doubt local fire departments would be able to handle a fire at a wind turbine due to the height of such structures.
Gregg Mast, president and CEO of Earthtech Energy Inc., said economic opportunities for families posed by the wind farm does not happen very often for communities. He said the project would diversify the state’s power supply and signal Minnesota is a welcoming environment for clean-energy sector job growth.