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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Impressions of the Wind Siting Council’s Tour of Wind Development

The Wind Siting Advisory Committee, created to advise the Public Service Commission on statewide wind siting standards, toured Blue Sky Green Field Wind Energy Center and Forward Wind Center on May 4, 2010, to gain first hand knowledge of turbine impacts.

Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin's executive director, prepared the following commentary on his impressions of the tour:


Impressions of the Wind Siting Council’s Tour of Wind Development in Fond du Lac County
by Michael Vickerman
May 5, 2010

Stop 1 – Home of Larry Wunsch, council member, pilot, and wind project opponent

A member of the Wind Siting Council and a critic of windpower, Larry lives on a 60-acre parcel located on the northern edge of the Forward project along Hwy F. On his 60 acres you’ll find a six-year-old 2,200 square-foot house, a hangar, a airplane, an airstrip, and 50 acres of rentable ag land, all zoned agricultural. The property is for sale; the asking price is $600,000. You can take a digital tour of his property by visiting http://www.fdlairstrip.com. Observe that not a single turbine shows up in any of the images on his web site. As you will appreciate later on in this document, editing out the wind turbines was not an easy feat to pull off.

Fourteen of the 15 council members were present at Larry Wunsch’s house. Also gathering there were PSC staff, a film crew from WI Public Television, Bill Rakocy’s partners at Emerging Energies (Tim Osterberg and Jay Mundinger) a smattering of local wind critics (Gerry Meyer and Curt Kindschuh), two WINDCOWS representatives from Manitowoc County (Dave and Lynn Korinek), Lynda Barry from Rock County, furiously taking notes, and a few others whom I didn’t recognize.

I came a few minutes late, and missed some of Larry’s opening remarks. From what I gleaned from others, Larry mentioned that he poured much if not all of his personal savings into acquiring this property some 11 years ago. Between the appearance of his property and the tidbits of information he provided yesterday, I would characterize Larry’s parcel as investment property on which he built his dream house, which is set back about 100 yards from the road. The property tax levy on his 60-acre parcel is quite modest -- $5,400 per year. At some point in the future, his plan was to subdivide the ag land into residential properties.

The wind was blowing from the west-southwest. My educated guess is that the winds were clocking in about 10 – 14 miles/hour.

The closest turbine to Larry’s house is located practically due west at a distance of 1,100 feet. I honestly could not hear the wind turbine from where I stood, about 50 feet east of the house. I was surprised by this, because I had stopped at the Blue Sky Green Field operations center on the way to Larry’s house, and there I could clearly hear the Vestas V-82 turbine that is 1,100 feet away from the building entrance.

There was no shadow flicker to experience, due to the generally cloudy conditions at Forward as well as the time of day.

There was no missing the visual impact of the Forward project looking south from where we gathered, which was in front of Larry’s hangar. There were easily 50 turbines viewable from that vantage point. Moreover, off in the eastern horizon, the Cedar Ridge turbines were plainly visible, although their visual impact was slight compared to the panorama of Forward turbines from east to west. Since he owned the property before the wind turbines were constructed, the change in his south-facing viewshed must have been dramatic, to say the least.

No one had any difficulty hearing Larry or any other speaker during the tour stop. Maybe others were able to perceive sound coming from the turbines, but I certainly wasn’t. We were able to make out a plethora of other sounds while we were there, including a very loud plane flying overhead, occasional bird chatter, random mooing of cows and, at one point, a helicopter buzzing over the turbines. The bucolic sounds of the countryside were in no way disturbed or distorted by whooshing noise.

There was some talk attempting to distinguish the sound signature of a Vestas V-82 from that of a GE 1.5 MW. I would say that the Vestas turbines produce a more pronounced aerodynamic sound than the GE turbines. Compared with a Vestas V-82, the sounds from a GE turbine are more likely to emanate from inside the nacelle. Others may have a different take on this point.

Because she had a pressing engagement later in the morning, We Energies’ Tanya Holler-Muench also spoke to the group while it was assembled at Larry’s house. She provided details about the mitigation measures that We Energies employs in response to citizen complaints. For example, she mentioned that the most effective technique they use to minimize shadow flicker is a room-darkening cellulose window shade that blocks the shadow from penetrating into the interior. She also explained We Energies’ procedures for dealing with radio interference and TV signal interference.

Stop 2 – Blue Sky Green Field Operations Center

On the way to the operations center, the clouds broke up and the sun shone through. We assembled at the operations center, where We Energies’ Andy Hesselbach delivered a brief presentation on WE’s generation profile and the construction of the Blue Sky Green Field in 2007-2008, and its performance since. The turbines were achieving availability ratings of 99% or better. According to Andy, wind farm production was tracking close to preconstruction estimates, and that April had been a good month for wind. (An aside: it was a hell of a good month for solar too.)
Somebody asked Andy a question about the notorious Vestas safety manual, which wind opponents have used to justify their arguments that wind turbines should be no closer than 1,300 feet to a property line. Andy said that We Energies had obtained from Vestas a letter that clarifies some of the more confusing aspects of the manual. I asked Andy to circulate that letter to the entire Council.

Several other people working at the Operations Center also spoke, including Art Ondrejka, Vestas’ maintenance manager. Art presented a local face to the project. He was already living in the project zone when Vestas hired him. The house where he lives is within a quarter-mile (1,320 feet) of four turbines, but his family is not bothered by their proximity. He stressed that WE and Vestas use local contractors and vendors whenever possible.

The overall impression conveyed by the We Energies-Vestas team is that Blue Sky Green Field is a well-managed project and that We Energies is a responsible project owner, effectively balancing the objective of maximizing facility output with the obligation to be a good neighbor to area residents.

After the presentations were concluded, the group walked to the turbine closest to the operations center. As we approached the turbine we spotted two red-tailed hawks wheeling above the turbine, looking not the least bit alarmed. The wind started to pick up then. The turbine door was opened and a few Council members and PSC staff stepped inside. Others gathered about 200 feet from the turbine to talk. Even though everyone was quite conscious of the whooshing blades (and an audible chirping sound with each revolution), we were able to converse with each other without having to raise our voices or cup our ears. Not far away, one of the Council members, a wind opponent, was listening to messages on his mobile. No one, including the opponents, seemed troubled by our proximity to the turbine. Given how quick they are to misrepresent the contents of the Vestas safety manual, they seemed not at all worried about what harm might befall them being only 200 feet from a spinning industrial monster. The two WINDCOWS representatives were tagging along and they didn’t seem the least bit fazed either.

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