The Wind Industry Tackles Trouble on Two Fronts

Oct 11, 2019  | 6 min  | Ep4508

Renewable energy remains a polarizing issue. Political and customer pressure has power companies moving renewables to the “front burner.”

Wind plays a big part in this mix as efficiency has increased and federal tax incentives help defer the cost of building infrastructure.

Farmers now grow wind turbines and wheat in the same field. However, the harvest has ranged from “good times” to “buyer’s remorse.”

It should be noted that Mid-American Energy helps fund Iowa PBS, where Market to Market is produced.

John Torpy reports in our Cover Story. Producer contact: 

    Trouble for the wind energy industry began blowing into central Iowa in 2018. The controversy centers around a project that stretches across the adjoining counties of Adair and Madison. While the wind industry experienced smooth sailing in Adair County this was not the case for Madison. 
      The first front rolled across the Hawkeye state when a coalition of residents sued the Madison County Zoning Commission. The group wanted to stop construction of the Arbor Hill Wind Farm and be released from contracts. A district court dismissed the case against the 52 turbine operation in June of 2019. Unhappy with the court’s legal finding, The Madison County Coalition for Scenic Preservation, one of the groups that was part of the lawsuit, appealed the decision to the Iowa Supreme Court last August. The case has yet to be heard.
      Madison county resident Mark Stadtlander is part of the coalition that initially sued Madison County over the Arbor Hill Wind Farm. 
Mark Stadtlander, Resident Rights Coalition of Madison County: “You know, green energy, wind energy, that narrative. I don't, I can't imagine anyone being against that and the groups not against it. It's the way that it's formulated. It's the way that it's communicated and it's the way that it's, um, put upon people that don't necessarily want it. We're more concerned about property rights and property rights for the people that are interested in having wind turbines and property rights for the people that are going to be affected negatively by it.”

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      The second storm front began building as the Madison County Board of Health brought concerns to the Madison County Board of Supervisors that wind turbines had potential negative health effects. Supervisor Diane Fitch drafted a proposal for a 22-month moratorium on any new renewable energy projects in the county. 
Diane Fitch, Madison County Board of Supervisors:” I'm not in that ballpark of pushing anything through too fast. I think we need to think about this and really get it right.”

      Supervisor Phil Clifton disagreed.

Phil Clifton, Madison County Board of Supervisors:” My position all along has been that it shouldn't take 12 months to get that done. It should have been in a period of more like five to six months.”

      Over the course of three separate public meetings, people voiced their opinions about the Arbor Hill project and the proposed moratorium on new green energy construction.
Van Meter Resident:”I want you to know that I support wind energy. We have to, I live in a passive solar house. My heating bill for the winter is half of what it was when I lived in Des Moines for a house. Half the size. Solar energy and wind energy are absolutely imperative to this country. We cannot succeed if we don't do that kind of thing and I wish you guys would support it, support it strongly.”

Tanya Lamb, Adair County: “Our supervisors have finally placed a cap on the number of turbines with their County. We are infested with more than 550. This will happen to Madison County, if you don't act now.”

      Days before turbine blades began spinning on an existing project near Mike Lamb’s Adair County home, he and his wife Tanya attended several of the neighboring Madison County Board of Supervisors meetings. The Lambs signed up to have wind turbines built on their property. The couple says they have grown to regret their decision.
Nat Sound Break at meeting -- Mike Lamb, Adair County:” I wish I could've got out of it, but I knew that I couldn't./I think it's just learning about the whole process and figuring out, you know, this isn't really what we thought it was going be.”

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Mike Lamb, Adair County: “What constitutes a good neighbor? A good neighbor that signs an easement saying you're never going to be able to complain. Or a good neighbor that lets them have 60 acres to make their life easier. But then here they're making ours hell.”
      At the end of the third reading, the board of supervisors approved a one-year moratorium by a vote of 2 to 1. Over the next 12 months, the board will craft ordinances dictating the placement of turbines in coloration to surrounding structures. The Madison County Board of Health suggested 1.5 miles between a wind turbine and a home. 
      Des Moines, Iowa-based MidAmerican Energy says the board of health’s resolution would hurt future wind projects for the company. 
Adam Jablonski, Director of Renewable Energy, MidAmerican Energy: “I mean If you think about the way Iowa's laid out in the sections, you know square mile, they wanted a one and a 1/2 mile set back from every single house. Usually there is a house or 2 for every section so that would just eliminate all buildable lands. Practically eliminate all buildable lands. You would never build be able to site a wind project under those guidelines.”

      According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 9 percent of the country’s electricity comes from wind. By 2020, that number is predicted to climb by roughly 20 percent. Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas, and California are responsible for roughly 57 percent of the country’s wind energy generation. A mix of green energy popularity and federal production tax credits have spurred wind energy expansion upward. 
      MidAmerican Energy officials say more than half of the electricity they generate can be sourced to wind energy. 
      In the Adair county portion of the Arbor Hill Wind Farm, advancements in technology have brought the next generation in wind energy production. Crews have begun pouring foundations for turbines reaching a height of almost 500 feet with blades stretching out 240 feet. The new power generators will produce 4.2 megawatts of electricity, more than twice the amount of most existing turbines.
Adam Jablonski, Director of Renewable Energy, MidAmerican Energy:” MidAmerican currently has over 2,600 wind turbines operating in Iowa and we've been successfully citing and operating those since 2004./
You know, they aren't new in Iowa, you know, they're there, they're part of the Iowa landscape now.”

      For Market to Market, I’m John Torpy




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