Clean energy or undisturbed vistas?

Cindy Blanc and husband Peter Minucci took up residence on 5 acres in the south-central Wisconsin countryside for the serenity and scenic views. “This is the best place to watch stars because there’s no light out here,” she said. “Now we’ll have flashing lights.”

Blanc, 57, was referring to a plan for 24 wind turbines, nearly 500 feet tall, including one that would be 1500 feet from the couple’s home in the town of Jefferson, a rural farming community of 1200 people.

On a February afternoon, Blanc and Minucci, 61, drive along a country road to a neighbor’s house to hand out yellow posters with the image of a wind turbine with a red slash mark across it. Protest signs already dot yards throughout the town. Blanc learned about the plans for the wind project in October when she got a notice from EDF Renewables in the mail. EDF’s 65-mefawatt Sugar River Wind Project would spread over 5870 acres. The project would bring in more than $250,000 in in tax revenue annually, according to the company. It would provide electric power to 20,000 homes.

Wind currently provides less than 3% of Wisconsin’s electric power, but the Sugar River project is indicative of a renewed interest among wind developers, according to Michael Vickerman, policy director of pro-renewables Renew Wisconsin. Renew Wisconsin believes wind power is a solution to climate change because it helps reduce carbon emissions, and in some cases wind can produce electricity more cheaply than coal-fired power plants.

But people who reside near power sites often see some negatives, and a fight is playing out in Wisconsin and elsewhere between residents and renewable energy developers.

After receiving the notice, Blanc organized her neighbors to rally against the turbines. Under state law, projects are automatically approved after 90 days unless the local municipality passes a wind ordinance to specify conditions for approval, so the situation felt urgent. Blanc says she is not anti-wind, she just doesn’t think turbines should be near houses. She is afraid her property’s value will fall. “Who is going to want to buy it and live in the shadow of giant, industrial wind?” she asked. “We’re musicians with no pension. This five acres and this old farmhouse is what we worked our entire lives for.”

In February, the Jefferson Town board considered a wind ordinance after months of public pressure. More than 70 local residents packed the hall and 10 people spoke against the project. Ultimately, the board rejected the ordinance, to shouts and jeers from the audience.

In interviews before the meeting, some residents said they have heard that some people living near turbines have suffered adverse health effects from the flashing shadows and low frequency noise: headaches, nausea and loss of sleep. Local farmer Micah Barr who lives about three-fourths of a mile from a wind turbine, said at the meeting that he gets headaches which vanish when he goes indoors. However, the Word Health Organization has very little evidence of adverse health effects.

Linda Kundert said in an interview after the meeting “We never thought of this as an industrial area, but the turbines kind of make it that.”

According to Vickerman, lease payments for hosting a turbine are in the range of $5,000 to 7,000 a year. Jim Bender, one of the few willing to speak in favor of the project, said that it is an “opportunity” and that people can benefit from clean wind energy.

The Green County Board on March 12 passed a wind ordinance and the county zoning department plans to review the project for approval.

Read related article in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 21, 2019 (Abridged)

Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin