Developers with plans for a large-scale power plant in Jessup have gone to great lengths to show they can be good neighbors in Lackawanna County.
Whether Invenergy LLC can keep its word depends on whom you ask in other municipalities where it has facilities.
Invenergy LLC’s community host agreements elsewhere pump extra cash into local budgets, and contributions to special community projects and quick response to issues and questions have been a delight to many local leaders.
However, some residents who live near its projects, wind farms in particular, say the company misses the mark, and in at least one community, 60 residents have banded together to file suit against Invenergy.
In Cannon Falls, Minnesota, Invenergy’s 357-megawatt power plant seems to have faded into the background.
When Invenergy entered Cannon Falls, a city of about 4,000, 10 years ago with plans for a natural gas power plant, the community had its reservations.
“There was a great deal of hesitation when they came to town,” said Beth Giese, Cannon Falls Area Schools superintendent. She had been a principal in the school district then.
Residents were concerned that the project, despite the company’s promises to generate clean energy and give the community a healthy dose of cash, would leave them high and dry, Mrs. Giese said.
“It almost seemed to good to be true,” Mrs. Giese said.
The company’s annual payments in lieu of taxes of $120,000 to the district bolster its operating budget. Invenergy also pays $528,000 to Cannon Falls each year in lieu of taxes, its city administrator Ron Johnson said.
Invenergy has offered to contribute $500,000 each year to the Jessup community, money that would be split among the borough, the Valley View School District, emergency crews and local community groups, as part of a community host agreement.
That is in addition to $30 million in taxes it would pay over the estimated 40-year life of the plant, which would be significantly larger than Cannon Falls’ plant. In Jessup, the Chicago-based company wants to build a 1,500-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant just south of the Casey Highway. The Lackawanna Energy Center would run almost nonstop and serve as a base load plant providing a power grid that serves 13 states and Washington D.C. with a steady supply of electricity.
Invenergy is working to gain approval from Jessup officials and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
It needs Jessup Borough Council to grant a zoning amendment request for the location where it wants to build off Sunnyside Road. A hearing on the zoning amendment that started last month is to continue 7 p.m. May 26 in the Valley View High School auditorium. Since plans began ramping up late last year, it has come under fire by many in the community who fear the Jessup plant will upend the borough of 4,700 residents.
A grassroots group opposing the plant has challenged Invenergy’s stance arguing the current zoning designations should remain intact, which ultimately prohibit the company from building on its desired site.
While Invenergy may have gained acceptance in Cannon Falls, the company that boasts it is North America’s largest independent wind energy developer has ruffled feathers where several of its wind farms are located.
In Wyoming County, New York and Vermilion County, Illinois, some residents want to stop Invenergy’s projects.
New York residents sue
A group of about 60 residents in Orangeville, Wyoming County, New York, are suing Invenergy over its wind farm there.
The suit filed last August accuses Invenergy of creating a nuisance with its wind farm that has, among other things, reduced property values, destroyed the “scenic viewshed” and sparked health problems causing the plaintiffs to become “sick, sore, lame and disabled.” The suit seeks $40 million to compensate the plaintiffs for harm done and punitive damages in addition to court costs.
Lynn Lomanto, one of the plaintiffs, hesitated to speak openly about the suit, which still is pending. However, she said Invenergy had responded to her complaints about noise only by sending representatives to inspect her home once.
“They just came out and looked,” she said “Spent maybe a half hour here and looked, and then went on to the next house and looked.”
Invenergy has offered to buy blinds for residents that will eliminate what is called shadow flicker caused by the spinning turbines, but there is a gag order attached, Mrs. Lomanto said.
“That document clearly states that you may not talk about Invenergy in a negative fashion ever again,” she said.
John Knab is a town supervisor in neighboring Sheldon, Wyoming County, where Invenergy also has a 75-turbine wind farm and pays about $600,000 annually in leases to landowners and $900,000 annually to the town, Mr. Knab said.
He said Invenergy has been “great to work with,” and has picked up the tab for five or six lawsuits filed against the town by residents who were upset that officials let the wind farm be built.
The courts threw out all of those lawsuits, Mr. Knab said.
Michael Blazer, attorney for Invenergy who is to take over as lead counsel for the Lackawanna Energy Center, said that he and his client reject the validity of this most recent Orangeville group’s claim.
“Any lawyer can file a complaint, whether or not it’s true is a completely different issue. We are still at the complaint stage with Orangeville,” Mr. Blazer said.
Illinois resident’s battle
Ted Hartke is a licensed engineer and surveyor in rural Vermilion County, Illinois, near the towns of Armstrong and Fithian, and he has been fighting the company since its California Ridge wind farm began operations in January 2013.
Mr. Hartke says noise from two wind turbines near his home have caused him, his wife and two young children too many sleepless nights. About a year after the plant went online, the Hartkes moved into a mobile home about eight miles away and are trying to sell their 4,000-square foot home.
The listing price for the house and four-acre plot is $325,000, $25,000 less than he had originally asked. He said he believes the nearby wind turbines, which are visible in his Zillow.com listing photos, have pushed away potential buyers, he said.
“I’ve had over 1,000 views, nine favorites (on the Web listing) and no takers,” Mr. Hartke said.
Because of the move, Mr. Hartke says his children have suffered ridicule in school, but the sleepless nights had been affecting their grades and was affecting his business. Some of his neighbors also complain of the noise, he said.
Before the turbine construction, his employer at the time did site surveying work for Invenergy.
After he broke off and started his own business in 2011, he did not work for Invenergy.
Between January and May 2013, Invenergy shut down the turbines 51 times following his requests, Mr. Hartke said.
Mr. Blazer said that Invenergy tried to work with Mr. Hartke to resolve his issues.
The company offered to pay for soundproofing in his house to eliminate noise he said is most noticeable at night when other ambient outside noise dies down.
Invenergy asked Mr. Hartke to get bids from contractors to soundproof the house, and they had a “handshake agreement” that Invenergy would foot the bill, Mr. Blazer said.
After several months passed, and Mr. Hartke provided no bids, Invenergy found a contractor that estimated the cost to soundproof at $58,000, Mr. Blazer said. Mr. Hartke said he questioned whether Invenergy’s proposed method would be sufficient to block out low-frequency sound from the turbines.
Mr. Hartke ultimately declined, but left a voice message with the company saying Invenergy should buy his home.
“Our perspective was ‘fix this guy’s problem,’ and he was literally stringing us along,” Mr. Blazer said adding that Invenergy has no plans to buy his home.
A sound study jointly conducted over several months by two acousticians — one chosen by Invenergy and the other at Mr. Hartke’s request — found that sound from the turbines near Mr. Hartke’s home are within the state-set maximum and do not violate the law.
Mr. Hartke had asked for an additional acoustician to run a study, but was denied. He also said it seemed activity from the turbines was curtailed during the study.
William Donahue, assistant state’s attorney in Vermilion County, said Invenergy has consistently responded to the county’s requests and questions.
“In terms of the majority and from the people that I’ve talked with, they’ve been a class act,” Mr. Donahue said of Invenergy. “There’s always a small subsection of the population that can be annoyed by these things.”
Mr. Blazer said 119 families, who have no leases or contracts with Invenergy, live within the wind farm’s footprint, but only Mr. Hartke is speaking out against it.
“Out of those 119 (families) locally who don’t have a contractual relationship with Invenergy, you get Ted Hartke on the internet,” Mr. Blazer said.
Before Invenergy stopped shutting down the turbines at night in May 2013 Mr. Hartke said the company gave him an ultimatum: accept the $58,000, sue the company or learn to live with it.
He said he is considering filing a civil suit, but his top priority is getting his family into a home again and restoring order, which could have his finances tied up for some time.
“It takes a lot of money to go against a billion-dollar company,” he said.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org, @jon_oc on Twitter
Invenergy at a glance
Year founded: 2001
Number of employees: 400
Headquarters: 1 S. Wacker Dr., Chicago
Founder, president and CEO: Michael P. Polsky