NS SERIES: Residents differ on what it’s like to live near wind turbines
Editor’s note: This story is part of the first day of two days of stories looking at the future of wind energy in the Fort Wayne area and Indiana. On Friday, we look at the potential for wind farm development in Allen County and Indiana.
The flat, farmland of rural Van Wert County, Ohio, is home for neighbors Gene Pool and Brenda DeLong. But they say the quiet life they enjoy has been disrupted by recent arrivals — wind turbines.
But Bill Dowler, whose family is in its fourth generation of farming the rich soil there, sees things differently.
“Farmers don’t have a 401(k) (retirement account),” said Dowler, 63, who leased land for the installation of two wind turbines on farmland his family owns. “When we retire, I will have a little more retirement income.”
He’s also practical about it: If many of his neighbors lease parcels of their land to the wind farm, he said, he’d have wind turbines nearby whether or not he leases any land to the project.
Here are their stories about living near wind turbines:
AN UNWANTED NUISANCE
Both Pool and DeLong, who live about a mile apart 5 miles north of Van Wert, Ohio, each said they can see more than 100 wind turbines from their properties.
“On a clear day, you can see more than 20 miles, and it is nothing but windmills to the north,” Pool said.
The turbines are part of the Blue Creek Wind Farm, which began generating electricity in June 2012. It is operated by Avangrid Renewables, a subsidiary of Avangrid Inc. of Portland, Ore.
“I built a home here in 2004 thinking it would be peaceful,” said DeLong, a retired teacher who grew up in the area where she built her home.
Pool, who owns a lawn care business, and his wife have lived in their home for 30 years. They reared their four children there and now enjoy visits from their grandchildren.
While the sleek, white, modern-looking wind turbines fill their views, it’s the machines’ noise that bothers them most.
“It’s hard to describe the noise,” said DeLong, who, like Pool, has a turbine within a quarter mile or so of her home. She came to Pool’s house for an interview with News-Sentinel.com.
“I call it ‘infrasound,'” Pool said.
After the wind turbines first began operating, Pool recalled, he was watching the local TV news with his wife when he noticed something.
“I said, “I can feel those windmills,'” he said, using a hand to go pat-pat-pat on his chest.
“Twenty minutes later, she heard them over the TV,” he said.
Many people describe the sound as a slow, continuous whoosh, … whoosh, … whoosh as each of the wind turbine’s three blades swings past.
“They are louder at night,” Pool said, typically starting sometime between 9 and 11 p.m.
Of course, the turbines only turn when there is wind.
“It’s not every day, but it’s a high percentage of the days,” he said.
Pool and DeLong said noise from the wind turbines sometimes disrupts their sleep.
If that happens for a few nights in a row, you feel agitated, he said. He doesn’t know if there’s a connection, but his dreaming “goes crazy all night long” since the turbines began operating, “and it’s not pleasant.”
When a wind turbine’s brakes or bearings go bad, the turbine makes a loud squeaking noise until workers shut it down for repair, they said.
DeLong and Pool don’t have much of a problem with shadow flicker, which can make people nauseated.
Shadow flicker occurs when the sun is low in the sky in the early morning or late evening and shines through a wind turbine. The turbine’s turning blades then create a constant flicker of shadows until the sun moves higher or lower in the sky.
A number of studies have been done regarding the impact of wind turbines on health. Some report a link to sleep deprivation, headaches, vertigo and a few other problems, while other studies find no conclusive connection.
DeLong and Pool also have other concerns:
• DeLong said power transmission lines were installed 2 feet outside her property line and 60 feet from her house. No one ever asked for her input before the lines were installed.
• Construction crews assembling the wind turbines often crushed field drainage tiles while doing their work, DeLong said. The drainage ditch near DeLong’s home now holds water for days after a rain, something it didn’t do before the wind turbines were installed.
The wind farm provided landowners with a payment so the landowner could repair any damaged drain tiles. But the landowner also had the option to keep the money rather than make the drain tile repair.
• Setback requirements mean homes or other buildings can’t be constructed unless the property line is at least 1,125 feet away from the tip of wind turbine blade in horizontal position, Pool and DeLong said. That greatly reduces the potential sites for building a home or business in the rural area around the wind turbines.
• Pool worries the wind turbines’ presence will prevent him from getting the full value out of his home and property if they ever sell it. Both he and DeLong also said their property taxes just went up.
“They make great weather vanes,” DeLong said of the wind turbines, which automatically turn to face the wind. “That’s the only positive.”
A FARM PERSPECTIVE
Farmer Bill Dowler believes the Blue Creek Wind Farm has been good for the Van Wert area because it pumps a lot of money into the local economy. He also hasn’t had any problems with noise or farming.
“It’s minimal,” he said of the noise. “It’s like having a four-lane highway a mile away. You hear some trucks from time to time.”
Dowler and his son, Stephen, farm about 3,200 acres, about 85 percent of which they rent from other landowners.
Dowler has two wind turbines on land he owns, and Stephen has one on his property. They farm around those three turbines and 11 others on the farm ground they rent.
Blue Creek Wind Farm uses an average of .6 acre per wind turbine, which is a minimal loss of cropland, Dowler said. That includes a gravel drive back to the turbine and a 10-foot-wide gravel path around the base of the turbine.
“You can plant up to it,” he said of the gravel path around the wind turbine base.
Even when pointed down, the wind turbine blades are 175 feet above the ground, so they are no danger when farming near the turbine, he said. They also don’t produce any down-force winds that could cause a problem.
Constructing the wind turbines does require a large crane and other heavy construction equipment, so the soil around each turbine gets compacted, Dowler said. However, the wind farm gave farmers a payment with which they can fix drain tiles damaged during installation of wind turbines and the electrical lines that carry the electricity the turbines generate to transmission lines and the electric grid.
The best way to correct soil compaction is to install new drain tiles, Dowler said, so the repair work helps minimize compaction problems.
The economic impact has been great for the community, Dowler said.
The wind farm owner, Avangrid Renewables, pays a combined total of about $2 million per year to landowners from whom the company leases space to install its wind turbines, Dowler said.
“It’s everybody’s personal choice what they do with that money,” he said.
Dowler, who currently receives about $9,000 to $10,000 per year per turbine, plans to save his wind turbine lease payments for retirement. Other farmers may use the money to pay bills, he added.
In return for paying normal property taxes on the assessed value of its property, the wind farm makes Payments In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) to local governmental bodies serving the area inside the wind farm boundaries, such as school districts, the library system and county and township government, said Dowler, who is township trustee for Union Township in Van Vert County.
The school district serving his area, Crestview Local Schools, gets about 75 percent of the wind farm’s payments in lieu of taxes, which amounts to more than $800,000 a year, Dowler said.
That income has allowed the school district to start major infrastructure improvements with cash on hand, he said.
Union Township receives about $125,000 per year in PILOT payments from the wind farm, which amounts to about 20 percent of the township budget, Dowler said.
“It just lets us do more,” he said.
The township budget goes toward rebuilding and resurfacing roads, reconstructing and relocating ditches, maintaining cemeteries, mowing grass along roads and plowing off roads in the winter.
Before wind farm construction started, Union Township and Van Wert County also negotiated to have Avangrid Renewables build up any of the roads it planned to use for hauling in heavy construction equipment and the more than 100 truckloads loads of gravel, concrete and steel rebar needed to build each wind turbine’s concrete foundation and gravel service drive.
“We got 8 miles of blacktop road before they started,” said Dowler, who earlier had visited wind farm construction sites in northwest Indiana and Illinois where the roads were in bad condition.
“We did not want our people to have to live with terrible roads for a year and a half,” he said.
For Dowler, the benefits of the wind farm far outweigh any negatives.
“There are always a few people who are against everything,” he said. “For me, it is a good deal.”