A fascinating article appeared in Midwest Energy News just before the holidays, looking at the current feelings in Kewaunee County, home Wisconsin’s first two large-scale wind farms, which started operations in 1999 and 2000. Twelve years later, some residents who had raised concerns seem to have come to feel the impacts are less than they feared; if Andrew Nowak, who voted against the proposal when he served on the local zoning board, is any indication, though, their enthusiasm is lukewarm. Nowak says the sound of his neighbors’ turbines, about a quarter mile away, don’t bother him, but when asked if the wind farm had been a good thing for the community, said simply, “I don’t think they’ve been bad.”
While some locals continue to resent the wind farm’s presence in their community, most seem to have accepted it. Local appraisers and city clerks say that they haven’t seen any sign of property values dropping in the townships as a whole, and in fact, there are some indications that land values may have risen more than in nearby townships; in addition, at least eight new homes were built within a mile of the wind farm in recent years. (Note: see the paragraph below, regarding property buy-outs of some neighbors within a quarter mile or so.)
However, at the end of the piece, the “all’s well that ends well” theme is tempered by the fact that “few residents interviewed think the community would favor more wind farms in the area.” Nowak affirms this, as does Lincoln Assessor and Zoning Administrator Joe Jerabek, who said, “We the people of the Town of Lincoln have made our contribution to renewable energy.”
Indeed, the article, while headlined and framed to suggest that initial fears have been unrealized, mentions that one landowner “and a few others” continued to object about wind farm impacts for years afterward, though offers only one quote from this perspective, a former Town Board member who hasn’t changed his view since voting against the plan.
One local, dairy farmer Joe Yunk, who moved away from the area after struggling with the noise only to find his new land targeted for a wind development, submitted a formal comment to the Wisconsin PSC in July 2010, in which he notes that Wisconsin Public Service, the developer of one of the two early wind farms, bought out two neighbors within a year (after noise issues cropped up) and demolished the homes, while several of his neighbors received below-market buy-out offers. After suing the company to purchase his property (two turbines within a half mile, the closest 1300 feet from his home), they settled with him for slightly under the market value, and his home was put on the market by the developer for 30% below its appraised value.
It appears that in this region of Wisconsin, the community impacts and attitudes pretty much reflect what we’ve seen elsewhere: in the community as a whole, the wind farm is generally accepted (though not exactly celebrated) and overall property values show no dramatic decline, while for a subset of the community the wind farm continues to be seen as an unwelcome presence, and some of the nearest neighbors find their lives severely disrupted. Once again, it appears that larger setbacks, to prevent these life-changing impacts on the few, combined with easements to allow closer siting to willing neighbors, could have avoided the enduring “bitterness” that Nowak mentions at the article’s conclusion.