By LeAnn R. Ralph
TOWN OF FOREST — Of the 33 people who testified about wind turbines at one public hearing in the Town of Forest, 21 were against the project and 12 were in favor.
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin held two public hearings in the Town of Forest on October 11 related to the Emerging Energies/Highland Wind Farm proposed project to build 41 wind turbines.
Each turbine would be 495-feet high.
The two hearings were held at the Forest Town Hall at 2 p.m. and at 6 p.m.
During the first hearing, 33 people spoke, and testimony concluded at 5 p.m.
Those who were opposed to the wind turbine project expressed concerns about noise, shadow flicker, stray voltage, possible health effects, wildlife impacts and a depreciation in property values.
Those who were in favor of the wind turbine project said they approved of clean, renewable, sustainable energy sources for electricity and that the payments Highland Wind Farm has pledged to the Town of Forest and St. Croix County will help the local economy.
Matt Radintz, whose wife grew up in the Town of Forest, said the previous town board and Emerging Energies had not initially done enough outreach to township residents.
The previous town board lost their positions during a recall election in February of 2011, and the new town board immediately revoked driveway permits and developer’s agreements with Emerging Energies that had been approved by the previous town board.
Industrial wind turbines in rural areas have negative health, safety and wildlife impacts, Radintz said.
Radintz was appointed to the Forest Plan Commission after the town board was elected in February of 2011 and said the turbine project is not compatible with the township’s comprehensive plan, which calls for development along state Highway 64 to retain the rural character of the township.
Radintz asked the PSC to deny the Highland Wind Farm application, and the audience in the Forest Town Hall applauded his comments.
One of the PSC commissioners asked people not to applaud or show any other reaction.
“We do not want to intimidate anyone making comments on the record. I know it may be hard to believe, but some people are here in favor (of the wind turbines),” he said.
Brenda Salseg, who was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit about a violation of constitutional rights in which a federal judge recently ordered the attorneys to pay $1,500 to Emerging Energies for filing a frivolous lawsuit, said she had visited Emerging Energies’ Shirley wind turbine project.
The PSC commissioner noted that Salseg had filed a statement during the technical hearing for the Emerging Energies project and that party witnesses who had already testified usually were not allowed to testify at the public hearing.
Salseg said she had a constitutional right to freedom of speech, and the PSC commissioner asked her to make comments that were not related to her previous testimony.
Within 45 minutes of visiting the wind turbines, Salseg said she felt head pressure, ear pressure and chest pressure and that it took a full hour for the pressure to dissipate.
Renewable energy is important, but the Emerging Energies project is opportunistic corporate greed, Salseg said, adding that the residents of Forest would be “lab animals” in a wind turbine experiment “against our will.”
“Wind victims” suffer from low frequency noise and ground currents, and health studies are needed, she said.
“I am praying that the three of you will make the right decision,” Salseg said.
Forest resident Todd Ostberg, who also is a member of the Forest Plan Commission, said he had moved to the township seven years ago and appreciates the dark nights, the visible stars, the ability to hunt, and hearing owls hooting and deer moving as well as hearing the train four miles away.
None of that would be preserved if the wind turbines are allowed, he said.
When the comprehensive plan survey was sent out, 58 percent of the residents responded, and 75 percent of the respondents agreed with wind energy, Ostberg said.
But 495-foot turbines were not what Forest residents were supporting in the recall and general election in 2011, he said.
According to the comprehensive plan, new businesses and industry consistent with the rural nature of the township should be developed along state Highway 64 or in the hamlet of Forest, Ostberg said.
Greed overtook the moral obligation of the previous town board, and the PSC “should right this wrong,” he said.
No new families
If the Emerging Energies wind turbine project is approved, Forest will not get any new families and the township will not have any growth, said Richard Lambert, a resident of 280th Street who will have turbines located about three-quarters of a mile from his home.
Wind turbines do not belong in a residential or agricultural area, he said.
Gloria Logan, a resident on County Highway Q, said one turbine would be located within about 1,500 feet of her house and that three more would be within one mile.
The turbines will turn her house into an unsaleable property, she said.
Forest will be “littered with broken turbines,” Logan said, adding that the project will be “disastrous” for the township.
Rick Steinberger, chair of the Forest Plan Commission and a supervisor on the Forest Town Board, said residents in the township would be in a “guinea pig situation” with the wind turbines.
Years ago, people did not know mercury and asbestos were dangerous, and the wind turbines could turn out to be as dangerous as mercury and asbestos, he said.
Forest resident Laverne Hoitomt said he had worked in telecommunications for 40 years and that the wind turbines would wipe out the ability to dial 911 in an emergency because there would be telephone service and no cell phone service.
Janet Monson, a resident on County Highway Q, said the wind turbines do not belong in a 36-square-mile densely populated community.
The Town of Forest has about 600 residents all together, which works out to be about 16 residents per square mile.
If the wind turbines are built, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will be stripped away in the blink of an eye — or should I say, gone with the wind,” Monson said.
Doug Hill, who lives on a third-generation farm, noted that we are all citizens of a “consuming society” and the consumption of electricity in the United States has doubled since 1960.
Production of electricity should be increased, but most electricity is produced by fossil fuels, Hill said.
Greenhouse gases could be responsible for global warming, but even if the gases are not responsible, reducing greenhouse gas “will not harm us,” he said.
Man on moon
Larry McNamara said he is the fourth generation of his family to live in the Town of Forest.
If no progress had been made over the last century, there would be no blacktopped roads, no telephone, no Internet, he said.
The wind turbines will bring alternative energy and alternative income to the township, McNamara said.
“If we can put on a man on the moon, we can solve any problems with the wind turbines,” he said.
Doug Karau, a former member of the Forest Town Board, said that in 2007, the wind turbines had been on the town board agenda for a presentation.
The town board never denied anyone the opportunity to speak at a meeting, but there was no one there to ask questions even though the item was on the agenda, he said.
Agriculture has gotten bigger and has turned industrial, Karau said.
Opponents of the wind turbine project are using misinformation and scare tactics, he said.
Mitigation for problems with the project are already in the setback and the rules for siting wind turbines, Karau said.
Mark Tellijohn, a lifelong resident of Forest, said when he was approached by Emerging Energies about hosting turbines, he began to thoroughly research wind energy.
Tellijohn said he had asked his attorney and Ag Star Financial Services to review the proposal and received a favorable report.
The positives outweigh the negatives, he said.
Wind energy is clean and renewable, Tellijohn said.
“Please let this project be built in this township,” he said.
Forest resident Lee Tellijohn’s property also will be the location of a turbine.
The United States needs to diversify electrical sources and develop a larger number of smaller sources and not use big electrical producers far away, he said.
Tellijohn cited a number of problems with other forms of fuel used to produce electricity, such as burning coal, storing nuclear waste and mining frac sand for natural gas.
The $250 million Emerging Energies/Highland Wind Farm project would operate 41 turbines, would employ more than 100 people in the construction phase and would employ between six and eight people on a permanent basis.
The 102.5 megawatt project would generate enough electricity to power 30,000 homes.
The Highland Wind Farm turbines would connect to Xcel Energy’s 161-kilovolt transmission line near Forest-Cylon town line.