EDITORIAL: Wind farm opponents face uphill battle
You can hardly blame residents in the Town of Forest who are fighting to stop the construction of a wind farm in their community.
There are many cases where people living near large turbines have claimed to have suffered negative health effects due to their continuous operation. A 2010 documentary, titled "Windfall," is an incredibly one-sided account of what happened in one New York community that considered allowing the construction of large turbines there. Even though it doesn't provide a balanced account of the whole story, the documentary is an eye-opening experience to watch.
After some research, a majority of people in that community (even some who originally supported the green energy push) decided it wasn't such a good idea. The film outlines a long list of concerns that are sure to frighten anyone who might live close to a turbine now or in the future.
The Internet is also filled with horror stories of how people developed headaches, couldn't sleep and contracted all kinds of maladies after the turbines started turning.
It's no wonder that local opponents to the project are running scared and feeling frustrated by the process.
The group attended Monday's regular meeting of the St. Croix County Health and Human Services Board to again ask for help in their battle with developer Emerging Energies of Wisconsin LLC. Their hope is that public health officials will jump on the anti-wind farm bandwagon and provide a way to stop the Highland project.
Trouble is, the state of Wisconsin has given the green light to wind projects, so long as turbines meet the required setbacks outlined in the state siting law. State officials claim that three previous public health studies provide inconclusive evidence that wind turbines negatively impact the health of those living nearby. That's good enough reason to allow them to be built, they claim.
The debate, however, revolves around how close is too close for a turbine to be near a home? The opponents from Forest claim that 1,250 feet is too close to homes. Highland officials say the minimum setback has been proven to be a safe distance.
No one has an issue with the hundreds and thousands of turbines that turn in the California deserts and the expansive farm fields of Iowa, where houses are few and far between.
But when wind projects, which benefit from substantial tax breaks in order to make them profitable, get closer to residential properties, conflict is bound to happen.
It appears there's little the county, township or residents can do to stop the march toward development of the 41-turbine Highland Wind Farm. The Wisconsin Public Utilities Commission has the final say in the matter, and because the proposed project meets state siting requirements there's an expectation that it will move ahead. The PUC will likely issue a decision on the Highland matter in the coming weeks and construction of the turbines could begin later this year.
This week there was a small bit of hopeful news for those opposed to the wind farm concept when State Sen. Frank Lasee (R-DePere) suggested that the PUC adjust its rules and move future turbines further away from homes. He also suggests the state take a closer look the possible health impact of wind farms.
He also thinks it would be a good idea that adjoining landowners near turbines should sign off on the placement of such structures prior to their approval. Because the turbines encumber what nearby landowners can do with their properties, that seems to make sense.
Even if new rules wouldn't impact the Forest wind farm development, it's a good idea to revisit the overall topic of turbine siting to make sure Wisconsin isn't opening a Pandora's box of problems down the road.
When we're talking about turbines that will be in place for decades to come, it's better to be safe than sorry. More conclusive research on potential health impacts, and siting rules that take those into account if they are proven, makes a lot of sense to us and should make a lot of sense to lawmakers.