Joan Lagerman likens the sound to “shoes in a clothes dryer," or "someone shutting a dumpster lid over and over.”
The Malone woman is among a group of residents who are suffering from a variety of ailments they believe are caused from living in the shadow of wind turbines.
On certain days, when the blades are coated in ice, the noise is so bad it shakes the walls of her home.
Calling themselves Concerned Citizens of Fond du Lac County, the group plans to attend the next meeting of the Fond du Lac County Health Department at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 2 to voice health concerns they say are caused by the whirl of the seven-ton blades.
Their main goal is to shut down the turbines at night so residents can get some sleep.
Blue Sky Green Field is a WE Energies, 88-turbine wind farm set on 10,600 acres, spread between the townships of Calumet and Marshfield in Fond du Lac County, not far from the east shore of Lake Winnebago. Lagerman and her neighbors are surrounded by the 44 towering turbines spinning in Marshfield.
The wind farm generates energy for the southeastern Wisconsin power grid, producing enough for service to 35,000 homes, according to WE Energies.
Choking back tears, Lagerman, 55, said Thursday she can’t take it anymore – the constant headaches, insomnia, hypertension and anxiety that came on after the wind farm was erected in 2008.
“Doctors can’t find what is causing my health problems, but I can tell you when I leave home, they all go away,” Lagerman said.
Just down the road, Elizabeth Ebertz, 73, lives in quiet agony in her home. From her west window, six turbines are visible, and from a south window five can be seen.
She said sleep is the biggest problem, and uses phrases like low frequency noise and infrared sound – both associated with wind turbines and sleep disturbance, according to a report by the World Health Organization.
“Most of the time when I wake up, I am nauseous with a severe headache and pain in my ears,” Ebertz said, hardly able to get the words out. “I have lived here all my life and it has turned into a living hell.”
But Brian Manthey, a spokesperson for WE Energies, said that, over the years, they have been getting complaints from the same handful of people. The rest of the citizens living among 88 turbines seem to be content. Some, he said, are even asking for waivers to build closer to the turbines than setback requirements of 1,000 feet allow. (More recent updates now require a distance of 1,250 feet from a residence).
The company sees no need to shut down the turbines, he said. A sound study completed in 2008 indicates the noise output is at or below permitted levels. As for studies on wind turbines and health problems, there have not been any peer-reviewed science studies that show any link, Manthey said.
“For the most part, we have very successful relationships with neighbors in the area,” he said. “And if there is a problem, ice build-up or a lightning strike, we address the issue.”
But resident Larry Lamont, 75, said WE Energies doesn't consider that, when trees are leafless in winter, or there is heavy moisture content, the noise is overbearing. The hum from transformers is constant, and it's compounded by the dozens of turbines in the area.
“They don’t take into consideration that while they may be monitoring noise output, they aren’t adding them all up together,” he said.
The group has appeared before town boards and state legislators to voice their concerns. Back in 2008, some farmers in the area requested that there be a citizen vote, but the town board went ahead and approved the wind farm, Lamont said.
When WE Energies first approached families living in the area in 2008, Bernie and Rose Petrie, like most people, thought green energy would be a good thing. About 55 landowners leased land or easements to the energy company to erect wind turbines, with one turbine taking up about a half an acre and co-existing with crop production and dairy farming.
Looking back, allowing wind farms to the area was a huge mistake, said 55-year-old Rose Petrie.
The couple is living on a family farm that dates back to 1928. Moving is not an option for them and for others annoyed by the whoosh of turbines.
“Roots run deep around here," Rose Petrie said, "and before the wind turbines came, our lives were peace and quiet."
How to Attend
Concerned Citizens of Fond du Lac County is asking residents concerned about the health impact of wind turbines to attend the next meeting of the Fond du Lac County Board of Health at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 2 in Room H at the City County Government Center, 160 S. Macy St.