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Wind farms cause controversy among community

Long after it began operating south of Fond du Lac with more than 80 wind turbines, the Forward Wind Energy Center divides residents as sharply as it did when the project was announced five years ago. Opponents of the operations insist that wind turbines are jeopardizing people's health and destroying the area's peaceful aesthetics. Supporters [are] certain that wind energy is liberating the United States from air pollution and dependence on foreign oil.

Cutting edge energy source sharply divides neighbors as plan for more turbines shifts toward southern Brown County

BYRON - Looking south from the home his father built, Francis Ferguson can see two generations of energy production in vivid convergence.

Locomotives chugging through this section of Fond du Lac County carry shipments of coal along the Canadian National Railway to be incinerated at nearby electric power plants.

Just beyond the train tracks, enormous wind turbines rotate on the horizon, working to harness a blustery winter day and convert that energy, too, into electricity.Ferguson, who was born here during the Great Depression and now serves as Byron town chairman, is philosophical about the old-style trains crossing through the shadows of a wind farm that sprang up just two years ago.

"It is a change," he said. "You can't sit and wait for the future to be the same as the past - it isn't going to happen."

Across town, Larry Wunsch stands beneath a 400-foot wind turbine towering over the home that he and his wife bought seven years ago because they wanted to live in the country.

Situated about 500 feet from Wunsch's property line, the spinning giant casts... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Cutting edge energy source sharply divides neighbors as plan for more turbines shifts toward southern Brown County

BYRON - Looking south from the home his father built, Francis Ferguson can see two generations of energy production in vivid convergence.

Locomotives chugging through this section of Fond du Lac County carry shipments of coal along the Canadian National Railway to be incinerated at nearby electric power plants.

Just beyond the train tracks, enormous wind turbines rotate on the horizon, working to harness a blustery winter day and convert that energy, too, into electricity.Ferguson, who was born here during the Great Depression and now serves as Byron town chairman, is philosophical about the old-style trains crossing through the shadows of a wind farm that sprang up just two years ago.

"It is a change," he said. "You can't sit and wait for the future to be the same as the past - it isn't going to happen."

Across town, Larry Wunsch stands beneath a 400-foot wind turbine towering over the home that he and his wife bought seven years ago because they wanted to live in the country.

Situated about 500 feet from Wunsch's property line, the spinning giant casts a flickering shadow at certain times of day. It also occasionally emits a noise that Wunsch likens to a jet airplane.

At least a dozen other turbines dot the surrounding countryside.

Wunsch and his wife, Sharon, have stopped trying to live with the disruptions. They are getting ready to put their home up for sale.

"This is not for me," he said. "It's an invasion."

For Tom Byl and Rose Vanderzwan, wind turbines are not only welcome, they are like home.

The young couple came to Wisconsin nine years ago from their native Netherlands, where wind energy has been part of the culture for generations. When developers needed locations in Fond du Lac County to erect wind turbines, Byl and Vanderzwan were happy to accommodate.

The couple, who have four small children, collect $17,500 a year for permitting three turbines on their Oak Lane Road dairy farm.

Some neighbors opposed to the wind farm are so upset that they no longer speak with Byl and Vanderzwan. But the couple makes no apologies.

"I really like them," Vanderzwan said of the turbines. "I think they're beautiful. And I think it's a good idea to get some cheaper energy."

Hardly anyone around here, it seems, is lacking in a strong opinion about wind farms, whether favorable or critical. Living on the cutting edge of energy policy reform does not lend itself to feelings of ambivalence.

Long after it began operating south of Fond du Lac with more than 80 wind turbines, the Forward Wind Energy Center divides residents as sharply as it did when the project was announced five years ago.

Opponents of the operations insist that wind turbines are jeopardizing people's health and destroying the area's peaceful aesthetics. Supporters, meanwhile, remain equally certain that wind energy is liberating the United States from both air pollution and dependence on foreign oil.

As state leaders push mandates for alternative energy sources, the debate that has absorbed neighbors here could soon reach a growing number of town halls. At least 20 other commercial wind farms are being planned or developed in Manitowoc County, Outagamie County and elsewhere.

One project proposed south of Green Bay in the towns of Glenmore, Morrison, Holland and Wrightstown would include 100 turbines, making it Wisconsin's largest wind farm. Known as the Ledge Wind Energy Park, it would be built by Invenergy LLC, the same Chicago-based group that developed and operates the Forward project in southern Fond du Lac County and northern Dodge County.

With state public hearings expected later this year on the $300 million Brown County project, opponents are beginning to organize.

Invenergy vice president Bryan Schueler, however, said his company has found support for the project, which he said would be virtually identical to the Forward wind farm.

The company offers landowners compensation - typically $5,000 to $7,000 a year - for allowing a wind turbine on their property.

Schuler said wind farms draw public support not only because of the thousands of dollars paid to landowners, but because of economic activity resulting from the capital investment, construction activity and job creation. Residents also generally take pride in knowing that they are contributing to the growth of a clean energy alternative, he said.

"Every project will have some opposition, as with anything that is new to a community," he said. "For every opponent, there's usually many, many more supporters."

When the Forward project was proposed in the summer of 2004, much of the opposition stemmed from its proximity to the Horicon Marsh, a wildlife refuge known for its populations of geese, herons and other birds. The 32,000-acre marsh is about two miles from the wind turbines.

Despite environmental concerns, the state's Public Service Commission approved the project in 2005, and the turbines were up and running by 2008 in the towns of Byron, Oakfield, Leroy and Lomira.

The operation has the capacity to generate enough electricity to power some 35,000 homes.

Since the turbines started spinning, the state Department of Natural Resources says it has recorded bird and other wildlife deaths attributed to the wind farm at a higher-than-average rate.

Dave Siebert, director of the DNR's energy office, said the national average for wind farms is slightly more than two bird deaths annually per wind turbine. As many as 10 deaths per turbine have been recorded at Forward. While his agency is not alarmed about the data, Siebert said officials hope to raise the issue when the Ledge Wind project comes up for regulatory review.

"Every next project, we learn a little bit more," he said.

For many residents in and around the Forward Wind Energy Center, the biggest concern is how the turbines are affecting their quality of life.

Some residents complain that the spinning turbines are noisy, that they create annoying sunlight flicker, that they disrupt TV reception and that they destroy the area's appearance.

"I think it's ugly and noisy," said Maureen Hanke, who lives in Mayville just west of the wind farm.

Gerry Meyer, a retired Byron postal carrier, is certain that turbines near his property have contributed to sleeplessness, headaches and other health problems for him and his family.

Saying that he turned down Invenergy's offer of compensation, Meyer said: "I consider it bribe money."

Others find the wind farm easy to tolerate - and even enjoy.

Alton Rosenkranz, who operates an apple orchard in Brownsville, said turbines positioned about 300 feet from his property generate the slightest "woof, woof, woof" sound. Rosenkranz said the noise does not bother him or his customers. In fact, he suspects the novelty of the wind farm is good for business.

"People come out to look at it," he said. "And they buy apples."

Many property owners receive payments of $500 a year from Invenergy if one of their neighbors has allowed a turbine to be erected too close for comfort.

Glenn Kalkhoff Jr., who lives in Byron, said the company also is providing him with free satellite dish service because he complained that turbines were disrupting his TV reception. Kalkhoff said he has no other complaints.

"You get a little whooshing sound once in a while," he said. "That doesn't bother me."

Homeowners who have permitted Invenergy onto their property said the company is easy to work with and that the compensation has helped their families endure tough economic times.

But supporting the developers also has exacted a price for some in the form of lost friendships with wind farm opponents.

Byron farmer Lyle Hefter said he gets $10,000 a year for allowing two turbines on his dairy farm. He also received another payment - he will not say how much - to lease seven acres for a substation where Invenergy employees work.

Each of the turbines uses about one-third of an acre. Hefter said he has no problem working around the obstacles, and whatever noise they generate normally is drowned out by farm equipment, passing trains or other outdoor sounds.

"You don't even know they're here," he said.

An organized group of opponents, known as Horicon Marsh Advocates, fought diligently to block the Forward project. The group no longer is active, but individual members remain vocal about their opposition.

Some opponents have made videos and kept other records to document what they consider the intrusive and unhealthy effects of living near a wind farm.

Curt Kindschuh, a former leader of the opposition group, said lingering disagreement has created lasting ill will among friends and neighbors. Kindschuh said he no longer is on speaking terms with a cousin who joined other landowners in welcoming Invenergy into the community.

Even at a family funeral long after the wind farm was approved, Kindschuh said, he did not share a word with his cousin.

"That's the sad part," he said. "There's so many people out here with so many hard feelings."


Source: http://www.greenbaypressgaz...

JAN 24 2010
https://www.windaction.org/posts/24291-wind-farms-cause-controversy-among-community
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