Forest residents talk about why they favor wind energy

By LeAnn R. Ralph

TOWN OF FOREST —  Although those who are opposed to the proposed wind turbine project in the Town of Forest have been quite vocal, those who are in favor of the project have remained quiet.

“How should I say this? I don’t feel that I want to be as vocal (as the opponents of the wind turbines). I don’t want to be like that,” said Yvonne Fouks, who has lived on a farm north of state Highway 64 in the Town of Forest for all of the 62 years that she and her husband have been married.

The main part of the Fouks farm has been in the family since the late 1800s, and the farm currently includes 435 acres.

If the Emerging Energies/Highland Wind Farm project goes through, the farm will host three of the 41 wind turbines in the project.

“I went to the very first meeting they had here when Emerging Energies came in. That was four or five years ago. I had seen it in the paper, and I thought, ‘Wow. That sounds interesting.’ So I went to that meeting. I came home from there kind of excited. But I never expected to be a host family,” she said.

“This is something we need. We need to get away from being so dependent on foreign oil. What’s going to happen in the future? What happens if (the countries in the Middle East) say they are not going to sell us any more oil? Or if the oil runs out? I think about my great-grandchildren and my grandchildren. What are their lives going to be like?” Yvonne said.

The Fouks will be able to see one of the wind turbines across the road from their house, but Yvonne says she is not concerned about noise from the turbines or problems with shadow flicker.

“The wind is always there. It’s clean. It’s renewable. And it’s not going to go away. Nobody is going to shut that off. Except for God … It wasn’t a hard decision at all for us,” she said.

The Fouks farm milks 90 cows, and although their son has taken over farming, Yvonne still goes out to the barn three mornings a week to do the milking.

“People ask me why I’m doing that. I tell them it’s because I want to. It gives me something to do. It gets me up. It keeps me active. It gives me purpose,” said Yvonne, who has had knee replacement surgery and shoulder surgery within the last two years.

Economic advantage

Yvonne says she is glad to know that the Town of Forest and St. Croix County are going to be receiving money from the wind turbine project.

During a Forest Town Board meeting in October of 2010, representatives for Emerging Energies said that over the life of the wind turbines, the project would result in direct local payments of $15.6 million, including $6.8 million to St. Croix County, $4.9 million to the Town of Forest, and $3.9 million to landowners living within a half mile of any turbine.

Yvonne says she is planning to go to the public hearing scheduled by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin at the Forest Town Hall on October 11 to speak in favor of the project.

“I’m not one to speak out. I’m going to have it all written out what I want to say,” Yvonne said.

Some reservations

Roy Evans, who has lived in the Town of Forest for about 40 years, says he is in favor of the wind turbine project but that he also has reservations about the project.

“We all make decisions, not only rationally and not only emotionally, but it’s usually a combination. So when we make a decision both are involved rather than one or the other. We really need to know when to use our emotions and when to use our rationality,” Roy said.

“Emotionally I am committed to the wind power. It appeals to the issues with global warming, so we’re not so dependent on oil anymore. Even if we had all of the oil here that we needed, I would be in favor of getting away from (using) the fossil fuels as an energy source. Emotionally I really like the idea. Yet I hear people complain about possible negative effects, all the way from cosmetic to ill health,” he said.

“At one of the wind farms in Minnesota, they were complaining about sleep disturbances. I think most of the information we get is anecdotal … that kind of information can generate a hypothesis. That’s interesting. Now let’s explore it and see if it’s really true,” Roy said.

“I’d like to see them go ahead and yet have oversight … once we are committed to wind power in this area, if we find that it has created damage, then there should be a way to correct the damage — that if there was a change needed it could be made (quickly) instead of taking years and legal action,” he said.

“Maybe (wind energy) will come down to the greatest good for the most people. Not every solution is a perfect solution … it’s too bad it had to be an adversarial approach: ‘if I’m right, then you’re wrong,’” Roy said.

Agreement

Marvin Voeltz and Roy Evans have been friends for years, and Marvin agreed with Roy’s position about the adversarial nature of the wind turbine project.

Marvin and his wife, Denise, farm 268 acres and milk 40 cows. Their farm would host two of the proposed 41 turbines.

If the attitude of the current Forest Town Board had been more open, “I think a lot of questions could have been answered,” Marvin said.

Representatives from Emerging Energies have been at several meetings of the current Forest Town Board but have not gotten very far in making a presentation about their project before being shouted down by members of the audience.

The current town board was elected during a recall election in February of 2011 and then immediately rescinded the driveway permits and developer’s agreement for the wind turbine project that were approved by the previous town board.

“We need to go in that direction (of wind energy), and as we go, we need to minimize the impact as much as possible … (opponents of wind energy) are concerned, but is it an emotional issue or does it have some rational basis? … Some people don’t want it at all if there is going to be any impact (no matter how small),” Roy said.

The Voeltzs visited the Emerging Energies wind turbine project in Shirley.

“We stood right alongside that turbine, and you couldn’t hear it. We were able to talk, just like we are now,” Marvin said.

“I think the initial turbines (built years ago) were noisy. And then (the opponents) got their information from that,” Roy said.

“I’m wondering if people got their information off the Internet that was based on (the older and noisier) wind turbines. We always try to build better. They should look at the present to make comparisons,” Marvin said.

Review of studies

Reviews of studies about the effects of wind turbines on people living nearby conclude that those people who are opposed to wind turbine projects for one reason or another, such as the change to the landscape, find the sound to be more annoying.

According to a report prepared in December of 2009 for the American Wind Energy Association and the Canadian Wind Energy Association by an independent panel of physicians and scientists who reviewed studies that had already been completed, a strong correlation was noted between noise annoyance and a negative opinion of the impact of wind turbines on the landscape.

The report notes, “Although some people may be affected by annoyance (from the sound of wind turbines), there is no scientific evidence that noise at levels created by wind turbines could cause health problems  [Pedersen and Högskolan, 2003].”

The 85-page report concludes, “There is no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects. The ground-borne vibrations from wind turbines are too weak to be detected by, or to affect, humans. The sounds emitted by wind turbines are not unique. There is no reason to believe, based on the levels and frequencies of the sounds and the panel’s experience with sound exposures in occupational settings, that the sounds from wind turbines could plausibly have direct adverse health consequences.”

Public health

The state Department of Health Services has reached a conclusion similar to the report produced by the independent panel of experts.

The St. Croix County Department of Health and Human Services sent a letter in April of this year to the state Department of Health Services expressing concerns about the proposed wind turbine project in the Town of Forest.

Here is the letter to the Director of St. Croix County Health and Human Services dated April 30, 2012, from Kitty Rhoades, the deputy director of the state Department of Health Services.

“Thank you for your April 5, 2012, letter expressing concerns about the proposed wind turbine sites in the Town of Forest in St. Croix County. Your letter conveys your board’s request that an outside party conduct studies of the health impact of existing wind energy projects in Wisconsin and your board’s endorsement of a Brown County resolution requesting emergency state aid for persons impacted by wind turbines.

“The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has reviewed the scientific literature on the issue of wind turbines and health, and we will continue to do so as new studies are published. Our review of current scientific knowledge indicates that levels of noise, flicker and infrasound measured from wind turbines at current setback distances do not reach those that have been associated with objective physical health effects. The Department has considered previous requests to conduct formal epidemiological studies in Wisconsin, and have discussed this issue with colleagues at UW School of Medicine and Public Health, other state health departments, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, we have been unable to identify a study design or methodology that could provide a constructive conclusion to the individual concerns that have been raised. If such a study were performed, we would review its methodology and findings.

“Given the current state of scientific knowledge, it does not appear that the allocation of financial resources for emergency relocation of persons from areas surrounding wind turbines is warranted.

“The Department recommends that communities work closely with prospective developers to address community concerns during the initial planning in order to maximize positive impacts and minimize any negative impacts to citizens who reside in proximity to wind turbines.”

Emerging Energies/Highland Wind Farm initially planned to have 39 wind turbines in the Town of Forest, which meant the project would have been under local town board control.

After the current Forest Town Board took an adversarial position about the project, Emerging Energies boosted the project to 41 wind turbines, which changed control to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.