Residents voice their concerns about wind turbines

Published 10:58 pm Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Some Freeborn County residents Tuesday discussed their health concerns regarding the proximity of wind turbines to houses in Freeborn County.

Residents spoke of what they deemed as adverse health effects from wind turbines during a Freeborn County Board of Commissioners meeting. The discussion came as construction looms on the Freeborn Wind Energy Project in southeast Freeborn County. No action was taken from the discussion.

London Township Board member and Freeborn County Public Health employee Michelle Severtson discussed her health concerns about wind turbines after she spotted an orange flag that symbolized the future spot of a turbine east of her property. She asked the board to consider amending an ordinance to require a longer distance between turbines and residents.

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Severtson said residents near the Bent Tree Wind Farm in north Freeborn County have informed her of adverse health effects they faced after the wind farm was built. She said the region has lost residents due to the wind farm.

“Freeborn County cannot lose any more residents,” she said.

Seventy percent of London Township residents are not in favor of the Freeborn Wind Energy Project, she said.

“Where are their rights?” she said.

She urged commissioners to make decisions that benefit the health of their constituents and questioned the effect the windmills would have on local land.

“Your decisions will affect generations to come,” Severtson said.

“I have nothing to gain but everything to lose as an acreage (owner) from this proposed windfarm.”

Another person stated agencies have found at least 1.2 miles is the safest distance between a wind turbine and a house. The woman urged the board to listen to residents who live close to the planned turbines.

Commissioners were asked to issue a moratorium on turbine construction until a better idea of the health and monetary effects of windmills can be established.

Dan Litchfield, senior manager of business development with Invenergy, said Tuesday afternoon that his company is developing the 100-turbine project and then Xcel Energy will take over to build and operate it. He estimated each turbine will generate enough power for about 700 homes. He expects each wind 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.

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.

“It’s a good boost,” he said.

He said studies in Canada and the United States have found no ill health effects from windmills. The company plans to meet or exceed numerous regulations during the project, Litchfield said.

“We are going to be designing this project with utmost care,” he said.

The project has been estimated to have a $3.5 million to $4 million annual impact on Freeborn County — whether through property taxes, jobs or other means.

Bernard and Cheryl Hagen, who live in Hartland Township, said they encountered a number of health issues after the Bent Tree Wind Farm was built in 2011, including hearing loss and other issues.

Bernard Hagen said the placement of the wind turbines near their house have made injuries he sustained while in the military worse. Cheryl Hagen said the windmill has negatively affected their quality of living. She said she has experienced severe headaches, sleeplessness and other health issues.

“After working for 47 years, I believe I have a right to retire in peace,” she said. “It is an ironic twist of fate that I am now suffering the same fate my husband incurred while serving our country. The turbines have destroyed our home and our property. We can’t live there anymore, as long as the turbines continue to operate.

“These are too close to homes.”

Bernard Hagen asked commissioners to order the shutdown of turbines within a mile of his residence or take other action.

“It is hell living out there near Hartland,” he said. “It is hell.”

Organizers hoped to begin permitting for the Freeborn Wind Energy Project in March, with the goal of getting permits approved by the end of this year. If all goes according to plan, the project would be ready for operation in 2018 or by 2020 at the latest.

Citizen wind energy expert Kristi Rosenquist of Goodhue County discussed state law and rules other government entities have in regards to setback requirements. She suggested a setback of more than 1,600 feet for wind turbines from roads and houses and recommended Freeborn County collect information from state agencies.

She suggested a site permit not be issued for the project based on current standards. She said the county could consider updating its ordinance to offer protection to citizens.

After discussion, Rosenquist hosted a meeting at the courthouse with approximately 20 people to discuss the issue.

District 2 Commissioner Dan Belshan, who invited Rosenquist to the meeting, said he hoped commissioners would possibly change the ordinance regarding wind turbines at the board’s next meeting in May. He urged fellow commissioners to think of people — not money —  when making decisions on the issue. He said after the meeting that there are proven health effects regarding wind turbines.

District 4 Commissioner Chris Shoff cited a Canadian survey that found no ill health effects from wind turbines.

“I look forward to researching these more in the next few weeks,” he said.

District 1 Commissioner Glen Mathiason said though he knows the negative aspects of wind turbines close to homes are a tough situation, the income Freeborn County receives from the turbines does not come from county residents.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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