Greenvale Township wind farm: the good, the bad, the ugly

wind turbine Greenvale Township resident Ann Occhiato wrote us earlier this week, asking that we start a discussion thread here on LoGroNo about the proposed Greenvale Township wind farm. Ann has a letter to the editor in the Wed. Northfield News, opposing the wind farm. Background:

58 comments to  (Including 11 Discussion Threads) Greenvale Township wind farm: the good, the bad, the ugly

  • 1
    Ann Occhiato says:

    Thank you, Griff, for agreeing to host a discussion here on the proposed wind farm. It is vital that the community has a way to share concerns and/or ideas about this important project.

    There are many issues to discuss but I will start with, what is for me, one of the biggest…

    The project site for the wind farm is directly adjacent to Chub Lake and its surrounding woodlands, marshes, creeks and hunting grounds. A State Wildlife Management Area is directly across the road (Cty Rd 86). This area is known to be of ecological significance, hosting several rare and native plants and protected and threatened wildlife. It is one of the largest watersheds and one of the last remaining rugged natural areas in Dakota County. The DNR, the Soil & Water Conservation District, the Dakota County Farmland and Natural Areas Protection Program and the Cannon River Watershed Partnership have all expressed a high degree of concern to me about this project.

    I am trying to raise as much awareness as I can because the area around Chub Lake is extremely special and it is unfortunate that so few folks are aware it exists. Of course, it was hardly even mentioned in the application for permitting by Medin Renewables and Sparks Energy. Indeed, they only mentioned Chub Creek (which they misspelled by the way, and I think says a lot about how much consideration they have taken), and the DNR controlled hunting areas, which was of obvious concern. No mention at all about Chub Lake and its incredible natural resources only yards away from proposed turbine sites. Please go look at the land around the project site. I would be thrilled to give tours. Personally, I feel I would be hard pressed to find many other places in all of southern Dakota County that would be less suited to industrial development. Why compromise valuable and uncommon natural resources when there is so much land available with significantly less value?

    There is so much to discuss but I will stop here for now.

  • 2

    The MN Dept. of Health issued a report, The Public Health Impacts of Wind Turbines, and has a docket open. There’s been a round of comments, reply comments, and rebuttal comments, and next it goes before the PUC for ??? In opening the docket, they said they’d be evaluating the setbacks for existing projects, and in the Bent Tree docket a couple weeks ago, they said they’d give us increased setbacks (1,000 feet) but they didn’t want to make any presumptions about the Public Health Impacts docket, and didn’t want to acknowledge the Dept. of Health assumptions in that report either. For the Public Health Impacts report and other info on the docket, go here: http://legalectric.org/weblog/4129/ There’s instructions there how to get to the PUC docket so you can read all the comments. LOTS of comments came in, and Xcel’s first comment might surprise you! Do take a few minutes to scan the Dept. of Health report…

  • 3
    Griff Wigley says:

    Thanks, Ann, for kicking things off.

    I see the MN North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club has an “endangered spaces” page on the Chub Lake Wildlife Management Area. It’s not dated, though, and appears to be quite old.

    Have they gotten involved in this wind farm issue?

  • 4
    Ann Occhiato says:

    I have not had a chance to talk with Sierra Club yet, however, that web page gives some good information about Chub Lake.

    Here is a link about the protected Sandhill crane who have nesting sites on the creek and marsh areas south of Chub Lake
    http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/snapshots/birds/sandhillcrane.html

    And, information about the threatened Blanding’s turtle which has been identified on Chub Lake
    http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/reptiles_amphibians/turtles/blandings.html

    Here is information about Chub Lake’s watershed
    http://www.dakotacountyswcd.org/chub.html

    Major environmental groups advocate for pre-permitting site guidelines that eliminate most of these conflicts before applications are submitted. Even just reasonable site requirements would have prevented this area from being chosen in the the first place.

    I have been informed by Melissa Doperalski, southern region coordinator in charge of this project, that the DNR and the Office of Energy Security are currently working on such guidelines. They have formed a DNR Windgroup. These issues are vital. We need wind but we also need to make sure we are not compromising valuable habitat in the rush to bring it online.

    The PUC should not permit any further wind projects until those guidelines are established. Strategic placement of wind farms to mitigate environmental impacts will be vital if wind is going to be successful in the long run.

  • 5
    Griff Wigley says:

    Ann, has the Greenvale Township board taken a position on this issue or discussed it at a public meeting?

    I don’t see anything on their website:
    http://greenvaletwp.org/

  • 6
    Ann Occhiato says:

    That is a great question, Griff. Active citizens are trying to change the “do nothing” attitude of the board in Greenvale, thankfully, a good first step was the election of Greg Langer last year. Both Greg and Dick Moore signed a letter of resolution against the project to send to the PUC but Bob Winter did not. He stated to me his reason for doing so was that “I didn’t think we could do that.” So, maybe some folks would like to call him up, his number is 507-645-7395.

    There has been a sorry lack of infrastructure in the government processes in Greenvale for a long time. But, that being said, the land, water, open space, wildlife and farmland in Greenvale and all surrounding townships is a benefit for every person living in Northfield. Everyone has a stake in this, not just Greenvale residents.

    I think a good question for folks to ask themselves is this…Would it be acceptable to put an 11 mega-watt industrial wind farm in a field directly adjacent to the Arb, or right next to Big Woods, or in a corn field on top of one of the hills surrounding Wilderness Park? If you don’t think those would be good places for the first metro-area industrial wind farm then getting active on this issue is essential.

  • 7
    Patrick Enders says:

    I’m still not clear on why people are opposed to the building of a wind farm. Is it simply a question of NIMBY?

    Renewable energy has clear benefits (sustainability, lack of pollution, and NOT contributing to global warming), and -- having spent the last two-plus years living between the Northfield windmills, I don’t find them the least bit disturbing. Heck, they’re positively entrancing -- I can’t stop watching the things.

    Last year I had the good fortune to visit Sicily as a dutiful spouse while my wife was teaching, and the Sicilian hills were dotted with windmills. Again, they did not seem to detract from the landscape.

    • 7.1
      Ann Occhiato says:

      You bring up very valuable sentiments, Patrick, because I think what you’ve outlined is how many, if not most, people are currently thinking about wind farms in general and in the Greenvale case specifically.

      First, I think it is important to point out that one turbine anywhere in any landscape or even near homes is vastly different than when clustered together in “farms”. One of the recommendations of the MN Dept of Health paper, which Carol mentioned (thank you for lending your expertise to this conversation, Carol), was to take into consideration the combined effect of turbines in farms, which is not currently done and highlights how outdated and inadequate current set-back requirements are. Which the PUC is aware of and why they commissioned a white paper from the MDH in the first place. Negative impacts are amplified near wind farms and guidelines need to reflect that.

      Second, there appears to be a popular warm-fuzzy sentiment about wind turbines, I think because they are rightfully symbolic of moving in the right direction on climate change and a more sustainable future. But, now that the wind industry is gaining momentum and turbines will be used more and more into the future, and now moving into more populated areas with the Greenvale project, we need to have a much more pragmatic view of what turbines really are -- gigantic, mega-machines with very real health and safety risks and negative impacts on quality of life, property values and wildlife. Their placement needs to be properly managed.

      Third, as a progressive, I feel disappointed that the same tactics (the NIMBY argument) that has been used for decades by big coal and gas companies as justification for ruining people’s lives is now being used in conjunction with wind. Are we trying to create a better world or simply save our asses? Really, I am not being inflammatory when I say that…someone please explain to me what the justification is in decimating the lives of folks who have to live near wind farms without ANY compensation for their losses? If there isn’t enough money to do the project and adequately compensate the victims then is there really enough money to do the project? I don’t want to go too far down this road in the conversation, however, because it is easy for it to overshadow the bigger issues which are:

      -Strategic siting of turbines is necessary to mitigate negative impacts to people, property and wildlife.

      -There must be safe setbacks from homes or compensation offered for losses. Many European countries adhere to a one-mile setback requirement.

      -The process must be fair, transparent and a community-based discussion. The community was never invited to be a part of the planning process for the Greenvale Wind Farm and residents have been misled and kept in the dark through the entire process. Even if residents within the project site couldn’t be more pleased about living near wind turbines, they would still have reason to be livid at how they have been treated.

      Commercial wind is coming on faster than regulations are keeping up and very important things are currently being overlooked and/or missed in the rush. We need to slow down and enact guidelines that work for our communities.

  • 8

    FULL DISCLOSURE: I wrote the grant proposal to Dept. of Commerce for the Carleton (and then Northfield School District) turbine, and programmed RENew’s 2002 Community Wind conference, and I’ve also represented CFERS in Kenyon, Safe Wind in Freeborn County and Goodhue Wind opponents, and consulted with numerous others.

    Patrick -- please read the Dept. of Health report. http://legalectric.org/f/2009/06/mndepthealth-windwhitepaper.pdf The state has supported those raising concerns about wind project siting, and the PUC has opened a docket to begin to address these issues. Your characterization of objections as “simply NIMBY” are off when you’ve admitted you’re “still not clear.” Reading the report and doing some basic research on “wind turbine syndrome” would clarify!

    Good wind developers utilize careful siting practices, and have sufficient setbacks to alleviate concerns. Others try to cram them in. Where developers are not respectful of neighbors and are siting too close, there will be problems.

    The best siting of wind is purposefully dispatchable, paired with gas or hydro or any other type of generation for backup when wind isn’t blowing. By siting wind near gas plants, it can utilize the existing transmission infrastructure and reservations, and not require more. This should be done first, but wind developers don’t seem to be looking beyond cheap land and willing turbine hosts, to see the larger strategic siting and site compatibility issues.

  • 9
    Jane McWilliams says:

    On the League of Women Voters web site, lwvnorthfieldmn.org, Georgiana Campbell who observes the Rice County Commissioners, reports that a group of residents in the Webster area came to raise concerns about siting turbines, cell towers, etc., within the area of Sky Harbor, and similar developments where they might interfere with aircraft. Does anyone know whether the state contemplates regulating wind farms for this reason?

  • 10
    Patrick Enders says:

    Anne,
    I can’t help but notice that you seem to be opposed to siting windmills near scenic rural locations, or near people. That doesn’t leave a lot of options on the table.

    Carol,
    The MDH paper is useful; thanks for linking to that. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make clear what setback rules are in place for regulating this (or other) proposed installation(s).

    On the other hand, a brief bit of reading on “Wind Turbine Syndrome” suggests that this is a pretty vague and poorly defined concept, with a lack of rigorous, controlled studies, and with a broad spectrum of proposed effects that resembles the side effects attributed to just about every medication that has ever been taken by the general public. Without more careful study, there is little useful to be gleaned from the work being pushed by Dr. Nina Pierpont, who funded her own research, and published her own book om the subject. Looking for an independent article on the subject, I came across:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/are-wind-farms-a-health-risk-us-scientist-identifies-wind-turbine-syndrome-1766254.html

    The article’s description of Dr. Pierpont’s work makes it seem that she simply has compiled a case series of people with complaints, lacking proper comparison groups that would allow meaningful interpretation of her findings. This may also explain why she is publishing the book independently, rather than submitting her work to a peer reviewed journal, as would be the traditional means for submitting tests of a scientific hypothesis for review.

    Mercifully, unlike Dr. Pierpont’s work, the MDH study does refer to, and briefly describes, three reasonably useful studies from Europe which might be used to guide proper noise pollution / setback rules for wind farms.

    So what kind of setback is being proposed for the local wind farm, and what is required?

    • 10.1
      Ann Occhiato says:

      I hope I am writing my positions more clearly than would lead people to believe I am simply against siting turbines in “scenic rural locations”. Take the time to learn about Chub Lake and you will quickly understand there is much more than scenic value to the area.

      A quick check of persons per sq/mile by county highlights my assertion that metro wind needs more strident guidelines (and preferably a different model all together). In Murray County, where the Fenton Wind Farm is located, there are 12 people/sq. mi. In Freeborn County, the Bent Tree Wind Farm location, has 46 people/sq. mi. By contrast, Dakota County has 686 people/sq. mi.

    • 10.2
      Patrick Enders says:

      Ann,
      What negative effects are you asserting that nearby windmills might have on Sandhill cranes, Blanding’s turtle, or Chub Lake’s watershed?

      Similarly, what negative effects are you asserting that nearby windmills might have on the Arb, Big Woods, or a corn field near Wilderness Park?

    • 10.3
      Ann Occhiato says:

      Patrick,
      The DNR coordinator for the Greenvale Project stated to me that the Windgroup was formed because the DNR cannot keep up with how fast wind projects are coming online. Having reasonable guidelines in place for wind developers would alleviate both the risks to important natural areas and help developers move through the process faster so wind can come online more quickly. I view this as a win-win policy.

      It would save on expenses in the long run in addition to alleviating any potential harm from turbines that we don’t know about yet. Again, the DNR coordinator, Melissa Doperalski, told me that there are simply not enough studies to draw from on the impact to wildlife and the studies that are done are not always applicable because each site is so unique. Many environmental groups advocate for a one-year study of each site to even begin to understand what the potential conflicts might be.

      Those who spend a significant amount of time hiking, fishing, hunting, canoeing, backpacking or any other activity in nature understand the importance of that. If you don’t view forests, lakes and natural areas as worthy of protection then I think that is a much different conversation. Most people understand the benefits of keeping some natural areas free of industrial development.

      Guidelines on wind farm placement and pre-permitting environmental impact statements would mitigate most concerns and I think simply makes logical sense. I guess I would like to ask you why you think it is not necessary or a bad idea? Remember the Office of Energy Security is working on these guidelines as well.

    • 10.4
      john george says:

      Pattrick- I can see how a wind turbine could be a threat to a sandhill crane, especially if it flew into the turning blades. The turtles….?

      Ann- Re. your population densities, Murray & Freeborn counties are not part of the Twin Cities greater metro area. Dakota county is, so I don’t think the average density figures are relevant. I know of no area in Greenville Township that has 686 people in a square mile.

      As far as windfarms, or any energy generating facility, it sounds like there is a little NIMBY effect wherever a company might look to place these things. If we are going to embrace alternative energy systems, someone ultimately has to pay the costs. Whether wilderness areas outweigh community needs is something that has been argued over for probably a half a century at least. I don’t see a quick easy answer coming to this dilema soon.

    • 10.5
      Patrick Enders says:

      Ann,
      I’m not against regulation of wind farms, or much of anything else -- very far from it. Also, I am quite comfortable with my generally pro-“forests, lakes and natural areas” attitude.

      I just don’t get a clear sense of what, exactly, your argument is here -- apart from, as you say in your letter to the editor, “The PUC should deny the permit to build it.” Beyond that, you seem to simply be arguing from a “throw everything at it, and see what sticks” approach.

      It would seem to be more effective to endorse a specific set of criteria that any Greenvale windpower development should comply with, and to base those criteria on the best research that is available.

      If you can show, based upon studies performed elsewhere, that a wind farm would likely have specific significant negative effects, then you’ve got a good case for enacting rules or guidelines to mitigate those effects, or to prevent the development altogether if it is not practical to build it in a neighbor-friendly way.

      The MDH paper makes a good case that there needs to be careful consideration of setbacks of wind turbines from residences -- although the precise proper setback is not clear to me on a quick read. Several different standards could be argued for, but I’m not clear that wind farm opponents have picked any particular one, and tried to apply it to this project. It would probably be helpful to do so.

      The case for eliminating the wind farm in order to protect the local wilderness seems to be a much weaker one -- if the argument really is simply to maintain pristine appearances. This isn’t exactly pristine land. If you want to make it more natural, why not eliminate all development rights in the area? I’m not clear on why a wind turbine might be more aesthetically unpleasant (or ecologically damaging) than a new housing development. And again, your argument to protect a pristine area seems to run counter to your argument that Dakota’s high population density is the reason not to site wind turbines there.

      Again, I’m just looking for clearer arguments. If you can argue from a basis of evidence and minimum standards, rather than from an argument of “it will be near the cranes and the turtles and the lake,” you will be much more likely to succeed in regulating any Greenvale wind power development.

  • 11
    Peter Millin says:

    It is always easier mandating these types of projects on to somebody else.
    We tend to pick usually on the weakest members of society for tese types of projects. Those without a vaoice or influence.

    A similiar wind farm was proposed of the coast of Cape Cod and quickly died due to objections of the late senator Kennedy.

    I suggest that those who are strongly fighting for wind energy (which btw is highly inefficient) volunteer their backyard for such a project.

    Based on that criteria this project would never get off the ground.

    I think windmills are an eye sore and do very little for energy independence.
    Their are much better options i.e. solar (panels for each single family home), natural gas (due to new finds and procedure it is now plentiful), nuclear energy (much better BTU per squaremile than any wind farm)coal (very plentiful) and of course our own oil, conviniently located on our front steps.

    Any of those alternatives either by themselves or in combination are much more efficient than windmills.

    Who is volunteering for a windmill farm in their backyard???

  • 12
    Jim Haas says:

    Peter: Sign me up! I wouldn’t mind having a wind turbine in my back yard. We’ve investigated some intriguing vertical-axis turbines and some small-scale modern versions of the old farm windmills. If they’d scare the neigbor’s dogs off, I wouldn’t mind!

    My reactions are similar to Patrick’s. Opponents don’t like the idea so cast about for some flimsy rationale to stop it. Like turtles.

    Travelling through Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa this past weekend, we went by hundreds (maybe even thousands) of wind turbines dotting the plains. Some were near farms and towns and small rural housing developments, some were near (or in) scenic and natural (that is, mostly undeveloped) areas. We saw geese and cranes and egrets and red-tailed hawks and quite a few human beings. Seems to work OK for them.

  • 13
    Griff Wigley says:

    Here’s a 17-second video clip I took 5 years ago after Carleton’s turbine was put up. (Photo album here.) I was surprised at the high noise level.

    • 13.1
      Ann Occhiato says:

      Yes! Now we’re getting somewhere. My main goal was to raise awareness and get folks to at least talk about the merits of the Greenvale Project. A “community” wind project should involve a little community discussion.

      First, there should be clarification that I will not have a tower near my property. It would have been very easy for me to sit back on this, I am not because I know the areas around Chub Lake and I know that it is more than worthy of protection from industrial development.

      That being said, I am sorry I don’t have the time or inclination to debate folks about the intrinsic value of special natural areas. Anyone who believes that every single open space that exists should be made available for industrial development is simply not my target audience.

      The point I am trying to make is that with basic, practically redundant, guidelines on wind farm placement, a unique natural area such as Chub Lake would be exempted. I think there are many, many folks who believe we should not build industrial wind farms adjacent to areas that house rare and native habitat and threatened and protected species, of which there are many associated with this area, not just one or two. My reference to the Arb and Wilderness Park was to make the point that Chub Lake is as special as those places and not simply “rural scenic farmland”.

      There have been numerous attempts over the years to put Chub Lake in protection or in a park plan on a citizen level, township level, metro level and state level:
      www.http://eurekatownship-mn.us/CompPlan/CPC/Parks_06-03-08.pdf.
      http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/fwt/back_issues/september00/article5.html
      http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/volunteer/sepoct01/this_issue.html
      http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/members/pressreleasels85.asp?district=36B&party=2&pressid=346

      While I understand why someone who lives in town might think of Greenvale as “the country” it is just simply not. I think the population density per sq. mile is relevant because, while we still have rural character, I can drive to Big Box Strip Mall hell in less than 15 minutes and I believe I likely live closer to a SuperTarget than anyone reading this. This is the metro.

      A community wind project should have given all of us the opportunity to participate in the process and it is unfortunate that we were not. There are many smart energy folks living in Northfield who I am certain could put together a responsible, workable plan that the community could accept and even celebrate. I think Sparks Energy/Medin Renewables should go back to the drawing board and invite the community to participate.

      The reason that it seems as if I am “trying to get something to stick” is simply because there are so many flaws with this project that it is difficult to choose just one or two to outline. So much so, that Windustry, a local industry expert, has offered to work with me in creating a case study on this project for future educational and outreach purposes. I invite anyone who wants to participate in that process to contact me.

      We should all want to design community-level wind projects that WORK. I am happy that Windustry recognizes the value in that so wind will encounter less opposition moving forward.

  • 14
    Paul Zorn says:

    Ann:

    I like wind turbines as a rule — and would accept one in my backyard if the 500-foot setback regulation could be met (it can’t), and if it would run my Xcel meter rapidly backwards (I think it would). I’m genuinely open-minded as to whether the Greenvale project makes sense, but like Patrick and Jim I’d like to hear a more coherent argument or set of arguments against the proposed siting.

    Implying that those who might support such a project “don’t view forests, lakes and natural areas as worthy of protection” won’t cut it, either as argument (it’s a textbook example of the ad hominem fallacy), or as a matter of simple fact. Nor is it obvious to me — either way — whether the proposed project would qualify as turning “natural areas” over to “industrial development.”

    If indeed the proposed development is likely to harm turtle, crane, and other wildlife populations, that’s serious, but I don’t see this assertion quantitatively made or defended in what I’ve read (skimmed is more like it … perhaps I missed something). If the DNR raises specific warnings about this project I’d be interested to know them. Reading (OK, skimming) the proposal suggests to me that the proposers have done at least some homework as regards DNR regulations.

    If the proposed development would harm property values or put residents at serious health risks, that’s relevant, too, but I’d like to see some documentation, ideally peer-reviewed (or whatever the analogue might be for property values). If such effects can plausibly be shown to exist, and be quantified, then perhaps the project should be blocked, or new plans made to better or differently compensate neighbors. Similar arguments have been had, of course, over such things as hog- and turkey-farm developments.

    Let’s keep things in proportion, too. If *any* negative consequence of a proposed development were a deal-breaker, then we’d never build a house or a road or — much less — a coal-fired or nuclear power plant, and everyone now living in Greenvale Township would have to move away. The advantage of wind turbines is, ideally, to displace more other more expensive or harmful (i.e., almost all) means of generating electricity. That these benefits may not come absolutely free is not necessarily a reason not to buy.

  • 15
    Anna Schmalzbauer says:

    I am writing to clarify misinformation regarding the proposed Greenvale Wind Farm. We need more sources of renewable energy and an energy policy that promotes the generation of energy close to the source of consumption. This project does exactly that. Wind turbines are being erected throughout the seven-county metro area in densely populated areas in an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, reduce our dependence on energy imports and create an energy policy that puts America first.

    This project has been researched, planned and well thought out. We have heard from those in the community that have misgivings and from those that are committed to developing a sustainable future and support the project. We are working on a plan that incorporates all feedback and moves this project forward. However, we also want to put some facts into the public domain:

    • Landowners in our project are hard-working, forward-looking Minnesotans who believe that wind energy is right the thing to do, for them, their community and our country. These land-owners have been proud stewards of their property for generations.
    • This is America. How great that we live in a country where people can attend public hearings, voice their opinions and stand up for what they believe. It’s also important to recognize that many of our nation’s greatest businesses have been formed by those with little more than a dream. We are a start-up company and proud of it. We are all Minnesotans with decades of experience spanning many industries and fields. With expert guidance along the way, we will continue to develop this project.
    • Wind turbines are completely compatible with agriculture and a rural way of life. Farmers can reap a “second crop” year round from turbines in their fields, earning income that can help them to stay on the land and preserve a way of life.
    • With tens of thousands in operation across the world, wind turbines have demonstrated an excellent safety track record. Modern wind turbines are reliable, safe, state-of-the-art power plants with hundreds of thousands of hours of operating experience. Wind energy is one of the safest energy technologies. It is a matter of record that no member of the public has ever been injured during the normal operation of a wind turbine, with over 25 years operating experience and with more than 70,000 machines installed around the world.
    • No one wants to see even more transmission lines running across our landscape to transport electricity from areas far away. We need to produce and use our energy locally with projects such as this. The alternative is more transmissions lines throughout the state.
    • Our proposed wind farm will offset 18,552 metric tons of electricity-related greenhouse gas emissions annually, or the equivalent of taking 3,971 cars off the road or planting 17,101 acres of trees each and every year. Today, there is enough wind and windy areas in the U.S. to produce three times the amount of electricity we use today. U.S. winds could generate more electricity in 15 years than all of Saudi Arabia’s oil, without being depleted.
    • Minnesota imports almost all of its fuel used to generate electricity from other states. We spend over $3.5 Billion annually on electricity, nearly all of which leaves the state. Imagine what we could do in terms of job creation, energy independence and security, education and health & safety, if only 20% of that money was retained in the state.

    The US is currently the leading importer of foreign oil. It seems there is a choice -- continue to be a community in the seven-county metro area that is known for its support of renewable energy, as evidenced by the wind turbines at both St. Olaf and Carleton College, or be a community who is “for” renewable energy as long as it’s not in my backyard.

    We must develop new sources of energy. Wind farms are safe, reliable and compatible with the rural way of life. We hope to work constructively with the community to harvest the wind.

  • 16
    Ann Occhiato says:

    Thank you for commenting Anna. And, thank you for your willingness to bring a wind project forward. That takes an incredible amount of time and resources. I don’t dispute hardly anything in your comments here. I am for alternative energy and wind plays an important part in gaining energy independence for the reasons you outlined above. And, is I why I think it is important to design community-based wind projects that WORK so wind will encounter less resistance moving forward. Especially in metro areas.

    I think it is necessary to have a dialogue and that citizens and communities feel they have a stake in these sort of projects. I think it will be vital if wind is going to gain the traction we need it to. I’ll just outline some of my key concerns and it would be great if you would be willing to address them.

    This is a planning and land use issue. I know you have been quoted in the paper talking about your family’s environmental commitment. I am wondering if you can explain the process that went into choosing this site? Why choose to put a wind farm near unique natural resources when so much other land is available? Because of your environmental commitment I am certain you researched the natural habitats in and around the project site you chose. And, I am certain that the misspelling of Chub Creek numerous times in your application to the PUC (the same creek that runs behind Leone Medin of Medin Renewables property)was a simple oversight and not reflective of the diligence you took in carefully choosing the project site. So, it would be great if you could outline the process and criteria that went into that. Why was this land chosen instead of another area without lakes, forests, marshes, creeks, threatened and protected species, and rare native habitat in close proximity?

    The landowners you mentioned who are leasing their land for the project are no doubt wonderful folks with an extensive farming background. But, they don’t live here. None of the people who live in the project site have agreed to lease land, provide easements or sell their wind rights. I think it would be great if you would let us know who the lease agreements are with because you refused to discuss it at the public hearing on Sept. 22nd.

    It is unfortunate that Sparks Energy and Medin Renewables did not invite the public to comment during the planning stages. There are many knowledgeable people in Northfield and even experts in renewable energy technologies that could have helped during this process, especially since you have no expertise or experience in this area. Why weren’t any of them consulted? Why wasn’t the community invited to participate?

    There are many people who have expressed that they are just fine, and indeed desire, to have a turbine in their backyard. One of them commented above. Perhaps if the community was more involved there would be people who would step forward and invite this project rather than stuffing it down the throats of people who don’t.

    Community wind projects should reflect the community in which they are placed and the people who have to live with them should have a voice in the process. Otherwise, “community wind” is misleading terminology and you should explore the use of a different phrase when describing this project.

  • 17
    Anna Schmalzbauer says:

    Ann, you indicated repeatedly that you and others were not given the opportunity to participate in the process of developing our community wind project. This is simply not true. On May 4th, we invited everyone who lived in the 837-acre project area to a public meeting at the Northfield Public Library for May 13th, and we scheduled a second public meeting for May 18th so folks had two options for attending and providing input (Ann – you were sent this letter). Few attended the meetings, but our invitations also asked individuals who could not come to the meetings to call us and we would set up a time to meet with them individually to discuss our plans and hear their input. We had no calls asking for information. Lastly, we sent another letter this summer to everyone in the 837-acre area after they had received our PUC application asking again for feedback. We received two phone calls and have worked to incorporate their feedback into our plans. We have sought community feedback throughout the process and will continue to do so. We take community feedback seriously.
    Regarding the assertion that turbines endanger wildlife, this proposed farm will not cause any damage to Chub Lake or the wildlife preserve. (Our apology for the misspelling of Chub Creek; this was an oversight on our part.) Wind turbines have absolutely no adverse impact on turtles. Regarding cranes and other birds, studies have examined the frequency of bird collisions for significant numbers of wind turbines — one study in Denmark and two in California. These indicate that a bird will collide with a given wind machine no more than approximately once every 8 to 15 years. For every 10,000 birds killed by human activities (buildings, windows, vehicles, pollution, etc.), fewer than one death is caused by a wind turbine. Our proposed wind farm will offset 18,552 metric tons of electricity-related greenhouse gas emissions annually. The biggest threat to area wildlife is global warming, not wind turbines.

    Prior to submitting an application with the PUC, we contacted the MN DNR and the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service. We gave them the coordinates of our area of interest and both reviewed the area for protected wildlife, including plants, shrubs, animals and aquatic life. We also contacted Dakota County for their regulations. Our plans were made to protect area wildlife and are in accordance with all state and federal wind permitting requirements.

    Ann, if you would like to continue this conversation, I would be happy to meet with you and discuss our plans and your concerns.

    • 17.1
      Ann Occhiato says:

      Anna,

      I wonder if at any point you thought it possible  no one was showing up at the meetings because they simply weren’t aware of them?  None of my neighbors were.  And, they all talk about how slowly this project came into focus.  You first applied for one turbine, which many folks were aware of, and after being denied the permit because it was not in compliance with township zoning ordinances, this project sprouted out of nowhere.

      The only correspondence I have received is your letter of notice and the PUC letter confirming application acceptance which arrived in the mail the second week in August.   You have adhered to bare-minimum requirements on notification while touting this project as community-based.  If folks didn’t  scour the paper for meeting notices on the day you ran it they wouldn’t know about the meetings.   Leone Medin “claims” she lives within the project site, she couldn’t talk to her neighbors instead of assuming they didn’t care?  It is a ridiculous assumption to think residents wouldn’t care and I think highlights your inexperience.

      The sad reality is that no one seems to know about this project.  I have informed about 95% of the folks I have talked with including citizens, media, legislators, public officials and environmental groups.  In fact, I think the only people I didn’t have to inform was the DNR.  Melissa Doperalski, the southern region coordinator in charge, expressed serious concern about this project.  Her number is 651-259-5738.   I am pleased you informed them and the Fish and Wildlife Service, but you were required to notify them, they have not performed any environmental studies yet and they have no authority to deny your permit application.  You are misrepresenting their involvement thus far.

      But, I was not asking you what folks you have notified.  I am asking you to explain the process that went into choosing this site in the first place and what criteria Medin Renewables and Sparks Energy used in that process?  Responsible wind developers  who tout themselves as environmentalists and concerned community members would certainly adhere to best practices in siting their projects.  So, please do explain.

      Now that you are gaining an understanding that the community was not well informed and did not know about planning meetings and thus did not have the opportunity to participate, are you willing to take that feedback now and redesign the project accordingly?  I am certain there are many people who would like to participate in that process if properly invited.

    • 17.2
      Sarah Moore says:

      Anna,
      My husband and I live directly across the gravel road from David Medin. How many times have you and your family driven past our home?  And while representatives from your company have actively solicited the majority of landowners in your project site area, no one has ever walked across that gravel road and spoken to us face to face. Any issues/concerns we have had, came from hard work via a LOT of Greenvale Township residents. Thus we have used whatever public forum we could to express our concerns. Don’t give me your song and dance about being concerned about the community, when the only “community” you were concerned with turned out to be landowners who could futher your cause.  This was never about being GREEN  for the environment, it was about the GREEN in your pockets, at the expense of good hardworking people who will have to live with the fallout of a wind farm. Your company thought they could come in and pull the wool over the eyes of our township, and you found people who were  just as smart as you are. The most ironic piece is, if people want wind energy, they can purchase it right now. Call your energy company, tell them you want to purchase wind power, it’s available NOW!!!

  • 18
    George Flavell says:

    Concerning: Greenvale Wind Farm

    My name is George Flavell and am a resident inside the proposed project area.I am also a life long advocate of wind power attending national and international symposiums. I felt I was generally aware of the issues concerning the development of wind farms until I was faced directly with them as I am here. Being aware is a relative term which takes on a whole new meaning when faced with certain imposed realities.

    I speak to you with mixed feelings. I clearly see the important role wind power has with other renewable energy sources in lessoning our dependence on fossil fuels. This is good for our country, our state, and our local economies as well as our environment. On the other hand I also see the issues that impact individuals in close proximity to wind projects. Our government is based on a system of checks and balances which is what is needed here to balance global initiatives with individual rights.

    As I see it there are a number of issues that can be resolved by addressing one central issue which is Turbine setback from individual residences.

    WIND RIGHTS. One of the reasons for purchasing my property was to use the wind resources. I am a designer of wind energy collecting systems. I have chosen not to give up my wind rights for this proposed wind project.

    SAFETY ISSUES

    CATASTROPHIC STRUCTURAL TURBINE FAILURE.
    I realize this doesn’t happen often (approximately one in 100 turbines) but when it does it can be deadly. The set back requirements in this proposal are no where near
    large enough to protect my family from being injured from a structural failure do to high winds and combined braking system failure. In Germany in multiple years including 1999, 2000 and 2003, the brakes on wind turbines failed in high wind, causing the rotor to hit the tower at high speed (The rotors were turning at 5 times there designed RPM limit). This resulted in anything from parts of the blade to the entire nacelle (rotors attached) flying off the tower structure. Blades and other substantial parts have landed as far as 1,650ft away in typical cases. Note that some researchers have calculated theoretical distances for high wind throw based on ice throw calculations. These calculations do not match recorded damage assessments from actual incidents as they fail to recognize the aerodynamic nature of the blade segments and the force of the wind necessarily present in a high wind failure. In layman’s terms, a blade segment doesn’t fall like a rock; it falls like a loose kite. Beginning in 2001, there are numerous accounts of residents being evacuated and motorways closed anywhere from several hours to overnight under these same conditions. These turbines were model V80s,awhich have an 80m (264ft) hub height. The Proposed turbines for this project have the potential to throw debris farther. See video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=segmMvgE4mw&feature=related Note that
    in this next video officials required residents to stay back 1/4 mile to be safe. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLInrjUtFGI&feature

    I want to explain that a bullet travels at 371 MPH, weighs only a few ounces, and we all know what damage it can do. Now take a wind turbine blade that is spinning out of control (5 times its design limit) that weighs 12 Tons whose tip speed is approaching the speed of a bullet. Imagine a 100 lb. piece breaking off. What kind of damage would that do to a house or a person? THIS ISSUE NEEDS TO BE STUDIED!

    ICE THROW: German scientists Henry Seifert, Annette Westerhellweg and Jurgen Kroning have put together a simplified equation for calculating the area of most likely risk in their study Risk Analysis of Ice Throw
    from Wind Turbines [A:E.12]. They plotted the throw distance of ice pieces observed to radius, and also included the weight of the ice pieces. Their calculation for ice risk area is d = (D + H) * 1.5,
    meaning add the diameter of the rotors to the hub height, then multiply that number by one and a half. With Medin’s proposed 1.5mW turbines, that means (240′ + 330′) * 1.5 or 855ft. Because the German
    scientists designate this as a rough calculation and recommend further local studies to determine the exact conditions in a given area, some communities are adding a 10% margin of error (which would make our
    calculation 941ft.). This allows for local topographical features.

    HEALTH ISSUES:

    NOISE Please refer to a study by G.P. Van Den Berg which deals with noise associated with wind farms
    http://www.nowap.co.uk/docs/windnoise.pdf

    LIGHT FLICKER please refer to a study by Bernhard Voll
    http://majorprojects.planning.nsw.gov.au/files/1883/Appendix%20C%20Shadow%20flicker%20study.pdf
    Also a video addressing Flicker and Noise:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyOImGHyJtQ
    STROBE LIGHTS

    PROPERTY VALUES: There was a study commissioned by a Calumet County affiliate of the state Coalition for Wisconsin Environmental Stewardship done in Fond du Lac County WI. which has stated that property values near the wind farms have plummetted 30% to 40%. See news release in The Milwaukee Journal:
    http://www.jsonline.com/business/59088607.html

    If you look closely at some studies which portray property value increases. There are no dwellings on the properties and the property owners are being paid lease payments from the wind farms, which increase the value. Properties near wind farms with dwellings on them, that do not receive lease payments are lower in value.

    PROPERTY VALUE ASSURANCE PLAN; I recommend that the developers provide a Property Value Assurance Plan to assure that anyone within 2 mi. of said project be protected against losses due to property values
    plummeting. The burden should be on the entitee that is making the changes to our community. See sample
    http://www.windaction.org/documents/4898

    There are cases of people trying to secure refinancing for homes within 2 1/2 mi. of a wind project that were refused based on a lower
    appraised value as well as inability of home owners to sell properties due to banks unwillingness to finance properties for same reason.

    See Study of impacted property values;
    http://www.wind-watch.org/docviewer.php?doc=AGO-WIND-TURBINE-IMPACT-STUDY.pdf

    a. ASCETICS AND QUALITY OF LIFE
    One of the controversies over wind turbines is the massive size and placement of these structures, where such an industrial view/operation may change residents’ lifestyles. These are industrial machines (30+ stories high) and will have significant impact wherever they are sited for decades. Few people would object to siting them on vacant farmland whereas in a
    bedroom community such as we are in, the situation is different. Commercial turbines such as proposed cannot always be placed so that they are not visible from doors and windows of nearby residences. This
    would be part of the lifestyle change our residents would be expected to make.The placement of these turbines is proposed to be as close as 300ft. from property lines and other occupied buildings. When you look over the rolling hills of Greenvale Township you may see a farm silo or two, which in most cases are less than 100ft tall and are part of the agricultural district we live in – part of the expected view. Ten
    commercial turbines would definitely take away from the aesthetics of the countryside. I was struck by an ‘alien’ or ‘industrial’ feeling when viewing the McNeilus Wind Farm to the south of us. Turbines
    dominated the landscape and I certainly couldn’t imagine living in such an industrial environment. It may be the case that residents get used to the view, however, many residents moved here to get away from
    the city hustle and bustle; from towering structures and constant movement. Indeed, our peace and quality of life may be our greatest asset.

    SETBACKS It has been brought to my attention that the PUC is considering stricter set back requirements. This one thing could alleviate most of the issues mentioned above. In European countries setback standards of 2 killometers (1 1/4 mi.) from dwellings have been adopted. They are about 10 to 15 years ahead in wind development. To see various European set backs; http://windconcernsontario.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/changes_in_wind_turbine_setbacks11.pdf

    Upon reviewing the attachment A map of PUC permit I noticed that turbines T4 & T5 sited to the south of 280th st. will cause dangerous flickering to traffic traveling south on Galaxie ave. for a good portion of the year. The same is true for traffic traveling south on Granada ave. viewing turbines T1,T2 &T3. I recommend a study be done to determine the effects of this.

    DECOMMISSIONING; The permit proposal provides the developers to start setting aside money in a fund for decommissioning in case of project failure. What happens in the years 0yrs. -11 yrs.? This is
    unsatisfactory.

    GAS PIPELINE; There is a gas pipeline running north and south through proposed project which has not been identified in the permitting process. Set backs need to be considered from this pipeline.

    Additional information: Various problems associated with wind farms in close proximity to
    residences: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=92A0DAA01FCC737C&search_query=Wind+Turbine+ice

    As I said before if we adopted the European setback model of 1 mile from residences all of these issues would be mute. This would put these turbines in open areas where they belong.

    George Flavell

  • 19
    Griff Wigley says:

    Sean Hayford O’Leary has a wind farm-related letter to the editor in today’s Nfld News, responding to Ann’s letter from last week.  I’ll see if I can coax Sean to join the discussion here.

  • 20
    Patrick Enders says:

    George,
    Thank you for providing a more concrete set of criticisms and concerns regarding wind turbines, and reasonable/safe setbacks. This gives us more to work with or consider.

    Obviously (to me), the biggest potential concern would be the idea of catastrophic failure, with debris being strewn at a distance from a turbine. Is the rate of catastrophic failure (with debris scattering) really one in one hundred turbines (I assume you mean over some period of time -- perhaps over the life of a turbine?)? That would seem to be quite a safety problem if that was truly the rate at which these things threw off debris.

    Could I ask where you found this number? In a brief google search, I couldn’t confirm that rate, or indeed find any rate cited for such failures. I did learn that Europe has over 100,000 wind turbines, so the rate you have cited would suggest that something on the order of 1000 of these things in Europe would have suffered the kind of catastrophe that you describe. That seems high, but if true would definitely be something that would need to be considered in determining safe setbacks. It should also give us plenty of information for assessing the potential distribution pattern/distance of such debris.

  • 21
    john george says:

    Patrick- Here is the link to a good study on failure rates of turbines in Europe.
    http://www.dem.ri.gov/news/2009/pdf/wtsiting.pdf
    The author stated in the study that failure rates have steadily declined over the years as new technology is addressing many of the concerns. As with any new industry, technological advances usually make make for better equipment.

  • 22

    Grrrrrrr, I had a great post about the wind statutes and rules, and everything froze up… must be that approaching Minnesota winter. Trying to use a newfangled broadband thing, and it or I hiccupped and there it went — aaaaaaagh.

    Once more with feeling.

    To look at any docket at the PUC, go to http://www.puc.state.mn.us, then “Search Documents” and look to right where it says Docket Type and look for “Wind Energy Systems” or some such. Two specific dockets I’d recommend looking at for examples are the Bent Tree project, docket 08-573 (at “search” search for docket 0-573) and Kenyon Wind, docket 06-1445. The Greenvale Wind Project is 09-722.

    Given the delay that Greenvale Wind requested on the 14th, it sounds like the are taking the concerns seriously, recognize the project has some issues to deal with, and have put it on hold.

    Anyhoo, wind is sited under Minn. Stat. 216F, and the rules are Minn. R. Ch. 7854 (google either to look them over). Setbacks under a standard permit allow siting a turbine just 500 feet from a home, 250 feet from a township road, even if it’s a typical utility scale 400+ foot turbine!

    Example: Bent Tree Wind Project

    FULL DISCLOSURE: I represented Safe Wind in Freeborn County in their efforts to get increased setbacks and recognition of public health impacts, and their work in large part pushed the MN Dept. of Health report and resultant PUC setbacks docket, now open.

    Bent Tree setbacks as recommended by MOES:

    C. SETBACKS
    1. WIND ACCESS BUFFER
    Wind turbine towers shall not be placed less than 5 rotor diameters (RD) on the prevailing wind
    directions and 3 RD on the non-prevailing wind directions from the perimeter of the lands where
    the Permittee does not hold the wind rights, without the approval of the PUC.
    2. RESIDENCES
    Wind turbine towers shall not be located closer than 500 feet from the nearest residence, or the
    distance required to comply with the noise standards for Noise Area Classification 1, established
    by the MPCA (paragraph III.E.3), whichever is greater.
    3. ROADS
    Wind turbine and meteorological towers shall not be located closer than 250 feet from the edge
    of the nearest public road right-of-way.

    After a tortured argument and deliberation, the PUC did vote to require a 1,000 ft setback from residences, but also did not want to “prejudge” the setbacks docket currently open, and this 1,000 ft setback was specifically for this docket only. Other projects, there will be the same fight.

    Someone had asked about maps with setback circles, and there are a couple in the Bent Tree file, I think in supplemental info provided by Alliant/WP&L, whatever they call themselves (it varied in their filings). The problem was that they had the 500 ft. setbacks, and then jumped to 2,000 ft, saying, “see, we can’t do it, it would wipe out the project.” There was no 1,000 ft. or 1,5000 ft. And this is essentially xurban Albert Lea, small residential parcels mixed in with old farms, lots of homes.

    Another example: Kenyon Wind

    FULL DISCLOSURE: I represented CFERS in their fight to get some acknowledgement of the need for setbacks, failure mode analysis, sound and EMF issues, decommissioning fund, draintile protection, etc., essentially a little basic respect for the neighbors.

    The Kenyon Wind project is an example how not to do it, a “case study” that Windustry should check out… but wait, it’s John Daniel’s project, and Lisa Daniels, Windustry, was there with him at PUC… hmmmmm… and there was to be a turbine and a substation on Steve Sviggum’s land (a family trust). Kenyon Wind was the first project proposed under C-BED law, and Steve Sviggum helped push through the 2005 transmission bill that had the C-BED wind financing option in it… hmmmm… that’s way too cozy for me!

    This Kenyon Wind project was a study in how not to do it, in problematic public relations, how not to be a good neighbor, and it was designed poorly, too many turbines on too little land, too close to houses and roads, no decommissioning fund, struggles about drainage ditches and drain tile, but the good news is that the financing evaporated and Suzlon had a turbine problem and the project tanked. It was permitted anyway, and they got an extension to begin construction, but it’s still not a happenin’ thang.

    There’s a very strange proposal that had the PUC Commissioners eyebrows raised to the ceiling. New Ulm muni has a proposal, Nicollet County Wind, I believe, and as an engineer, whose name I can’t recall, said at the PUC hearing for acceptance of the application as complete, “They need to work on public relations.” Understatement of the century. This project couldn’t be built in New Ulm, and so the muni decided they’d just go over into Nicollet county and take land by eminent domain!!!!! TAKE IT!!! The PUC said “Whoa, hold on a minute, we don’t think so…” and did accept the application but gave them the evil eye about eminent domain to site wind turbines. Good thing, because the neighbors who had received letters threatening eminent domain were there en masse and were a tad bit livid. WHEW! So I do hope that now the muni is reconsidering that strategy.

    Another problem is confidentiality clauses for land leases. This comes up often, and landowners should not sign anything with a confidentiality clause, unless it’s so much $$$ that they can’t say no. I’ve heard from several who have signed and regret it and who want out, or have run into problems that they want to warn others about, and feel restricted by that confidentiality clause. I’ve also heard about some pretty ham-handed efforts on the part of promoters, people being abusive and threatening with landowners — there’s no place for that.

    Wind, like anything else, is a mixed bag. It may be electricity, but it’s not binary. There are issues to be considered to do a project right, and some developers do it and some do not. A predictor of project success is the ability of the developer to relate to the neighbors, to demonstrate concern and consideration in all their dealings.

  • 23
    Stephanie Henriksen says:

    Aha, we are finally having a discussion on this topic! More people chiming in who have firsthand knowledge of this and other wind projects beyond just the single tower ones. I remember George Flavell (comment 18) very well from the Greenvale Township PUC hearing. And of course, an energy expert like Carol Overland. Now we can really learn something.

  • 24
    Stephanie Henriksen says:

    BTW, thanks Jane McWilliams for reference to Georgiana Campbell’s LWV report on the Rice County Commissioner Meeting of Oct. 20:

    Sky Harbor Air Park is located in Rice County, Webster Township.  The air park  currently includes  homes for 50 families  and 70+ aircraft.  At Tuesday’s meeting a group of individuals  were present to request  zoning laws which would prevent creation of future airport hazards such as cellular telephone towers, wind generators, and power transmission lines.  Also  of concern was the adoption of zoning laws which would restrict adjacent land uses to landing and taking off  — “normal airport operations.”  The concerned citizens present fear  that competing interests such as cell phone towers, wind generators, etc  will add obstacles and navigational and airspace hazards..  Currently a zoning amendment is being prepared which would alter the  airport surface zones and restrict the height of any  object  in those surface zone areas.
    As of now an amendment to the Rice County  Zoning Ordinance has been applied for  by James Huddock of Webster.  This is an issue which will soon come before the Rice County Planning Commission.

  • 25
    Jane McWilliams says:

    Thanks, Stephanie, for filling in that Rice County information. The situation there  isn’t directly related to the Greenvale Township one, except to point out what a dilemma almost every technological improvement creates.

  • 26
    Griff Wigley says:

    Posted 30 minutes ago to the Nfld News site: Greenvale wind farm on hold.

    The two local companies behind the development of a proposed wind farm have asked to temporarily halt any further action on the 11-megawatt project located in Greenvale Township.

    Based on the feedback returned to the companies during the project’s 180-day comment period, which ended on Oct. 7, it was clear township residents still had a number of reservations about the wind farm plans, said Sparks Energy CEO Anna Schmalzbauer.

    Many of the complaints centered around the precise placement the turbines, and the distance of those turbines’ setbacks from homes, according to Schmalzbauer.

  • 27
    john george says:

    Sean- I read your ediorial in the NN. You make a very good point about there being a “test installation” in our own back yard. Do you know if the college is doing any kind of study of any effects of this turbine? Without some peer reviewed study data on decibel levels, sleep patterns, hearing issues, etc, that might be caused by the turbine, we are without any good foundation to support a decision either way. There is a lot of anecdotal information out on the web right now, and without some objective study, much of this information is suspect. What a geat place to conduct a study.

  • 28
    Carolyn Joyce says:

    Sean and others,
    While I appreciate your thoughts on this project, please remember we are NOT referring to a single turbine.  AGAIN, this project will be utilizing no less than seven wind turbines.  I think we can agree that comparing a single turbine with an industrial wind farm is rather pointless in all respects.
    Carolyn Joyce
    Farmer and resident of Greenvale Township

  • 29

    Carolyn, I don’t believe the specifics of where these turbines are to be located has been determined. Since a 500-foot setback is required, however, I think it’s highly unlikely that residents will have more than one of these within 1000 feet of their home (the approx. distance the St. Olaf turbine is from Hoyme and Ytterboe/Manitou Halls).

    John, I don’t believe there has been any examination of noise levels, but there may be some look into effects on wildlife. I’ll ask members of the student Environmental Coalition to comment.

  • 30
    Stephanie Henriksen says:

    Sean,

    I have been hoping St. Olaf envir. studies students might get engaged in the Friday morning stream protection  meetings on third floor of the new Regents building.  That is to address concerns about sensitive acres Northfield wants to annex for an industrial park between Heath Creek and Spring Brook trout stream in Bridgewater Township. We expect Northfield Planning Commission will hold a public hearing in November.

  • 31
    Griff Wigley says:

    Editorial in today’s Nfld News: Case study: Why we’re not known as business-friendly.

    In an Oct. 14 letter to the state, Sparks Energy and Medin Renewable Energy said they needed more time to listen and respond to residents’ concerns.

    This is an admirable sentiment, but it’s not like Sparks and Medin have ignored residents. In fact, the developers have gone beyond what was required of them for public comment in the permit’s application process and have adjusted the project once already to address concerns.

    • 31.1
      Ann Occhiato says:

      It would be wonderful if the world were as simplistic as the editors of the Northfield News seem to believe it is.  Why oh why don’t those whiny Greenvale residents just shut up so we can all have our cake and eat it too?  Right?  The “anti-business” reputation of Northfield (if that exists) is probably because enough residents in Northfield understand that many business practices benefit business owners at the expense of the community and the environment.  It is businesses that need to do better by us, not us by them.

      This issue is not about wind farms.  This issue is about land use planning and adequate regulations.  Even 1000 foot setbacks are not adequate to maintain a decent quality of life for nearby residents, the PUC guidelines are wholly inadequate, and unjust in my opinion.

      Also, there are many, many areas of Greenvale that are significantly less populated than the proposed project site.  So far, Medin Renewables and Sparks Energy have refused to explain their siting process.  I believe the reason they won’t is because they did not do due-diligence or best-practice procedures when choosing a project site.  They have a piece of property in the project site, they looked no further than that even though it is directly adjacent to a unique natural area and significantly more populated than other areas.

      The siting of this wind farm is outrageous and more care needs to be taken, not simply adhering to minimum requirements but choosing to care about the communities in which we live enough to really listen to concerns and plan a project as best as possible to address them.  THAT is what community wind should represent.  Contrary to what Medin and Sparks would like you to believe (and the editors of the Northfields News who have very little idea of what they are talking about) they have not done that.  I am hopeful they will do that now that they are re-evaluating the project.

      Can every single little issue be addressed?  Probably not.  Will every person be happy with the results?  Probably not.  But, attempts should be made to mitigate as many concerns as possible so we end up with a project that works, that can be replicated, and that the community can be proud of.  I believe this is possible if folks really attempt to work together.  And, I believe the Medins and Sparks are beginning to see the value in that.  It will be vital if wind will be accepted at the level we need it to be.

      The Medins and Sparks have an opportunity here, we ALL have an opportunity here, to create a project that could be a national model of excellence.  Why not strive for that instead of following inadequate state guidelines that have been derived to protect developers at the expense of families?

      We should want to do better and  I believe we can.

    • 31.2
      Ann Occhiato says:

      If the NNews editors line “adjusted the project once already to address concerns” is a reference to the fact that the project was changed from eleven 1-megawatt turbines to seven 1.5-megawatt turbines, then I challenge that the Medins and Sparks did that to “address concerns”.  That is likely the result of residents not selling their wind rights.  They didn’t have the room to fit in 11 turbines.  So, what concerns of residents have been addressed?  I am not aware of any and it is not (of course) explained in the editorial.

  • 32
  • 33
    Patrick Enders says:

    Thanks for the link, Griff.

    It would be interesting if an opponent of the proposed wind development would propose a mechanism by which the wind turbines might negatively affect the Chub Lake ecosystem.

  • 34
    George Flavell says:

    In response to;

    Patrick Enders  #20

    Normally I try to gather information that comes from a scientific study or at least from someone who seems to be credible in their knowledge.

    The 1 in 100 I believe  was from a European news cast. If there are 100,000 turbines in operation then the 1,000 number seems high if we are talking about brake failure only, but may be reasonable if  it pertains to any sort of mechanical breakdown. This deserves further investigation.

    • 34.1
      Patrick Enders says:

      Thanks George.

      Actually, if one looks at the rate of any mechanical breakdown, I found a study on turbine reliably that put the rate of mechanical problems as 1 per turbine per year. Given the repairs that have been done to the Northfield turbines so far, this doesn’t seem too surprising.

      In advocating for wider setbacks for safety, I think it would be well worth your while to gather more detailed information on the frequency, and debris-throwing distances, for catastrophic turbine failures.  There are standardized risk assessment methodologies for assessing safety and health risks, and if the catastrophic failure rate is really as high as the 1-in-1000 that John George’s source suggested, than there might really be a case for demanding a greater-than-500-foot setback.

    • 34.2
      Barry Cipra says:

      For what it’s worth, there is a lovely little video clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KshskEi1XFo showing a catastrophic turbine failure.  It gives new meaning to the phrase “breaking wind.”

    • 34.3
      Barry Cipra says:

      Oh, sorry, I made that last posting without having noticed George Flavell’s link in posting #18.  I think it’s a different video of the same disaster.

  • 35
    • 35.1
      Ann Occhiato says:

      I am thankful to the Stribe for finally paying attention to this project but they have missed the point.   Current state regs are inadequate.

      State guidelines require wind developers to do their own environmental assessment of the project area and submit it with their application.  That’s it.  (see Minnesota Rules Chapter 7854.0500 at https://www.revisor.mn.gov/rules/?id=7854.0500).  No other environmental review is required.  No Environmental Assessment Worksheet or Environmental Impact Statement.  Ridiculous.  If this project doesn’t highlight the need for review of those guidelines I don’t know what would.

      Setbacks.  500 feet may seem adequate to someone who lives in a town where there might be four homes between you and 500 feet.  But, in the country where there is more open space, 500 feet is nothing.  That is practically on top of a country home.  Setbacks should be increased to a minimum of 1/2 mile or more or developers should be required to compensate residents for their loss.

      I am hoping someone can tell me why the cluster model currently used with wind farms is necessary.  Because most of the negative impacts come from clustering turbines, it seems as though spreading them out could work better.  Does anyone know if that has been done?  If we need wind farms in metro areas then adjusting the model seems necessary to me.

      I also want to reiterate that the Sparks and Medins did not halt their project to address residents’ concerns as they are stating in their PR over and over again.  They have not contacted any of the residents within the project site.  They halted the project because they did not have the room to fit in enough turbines because residents would not sell their wind rights.  I would bet they are currently looking for additional project sites.  Might be your backyard next!

      If so, then more people will understand the frustration of folks circumventing very real and legitimate concerns by stating it’s “simply NIMBY” so they can refrain from actually addressing any issues.  That is an uncaring and compassionless way of looking at this and it is shameful it is acceptable to do so.

  • 36

    FYI, I had an interesting chat with Tim Carlsgaard of Xcel Friday in Lakeville (at the CapX 2020 Draft EIS Public Meeting — CapX 2020 may also be coming to Greenvale).  Anyway, Tim’s been keeping up with the wind project issues, and told me that an engineer had done some wind turbine siting mapping with overlays.  The first layer was to pick an ___ mile range around a substation between 20-70 or so miles of the Metro that has some wiggle room to add generation.  They then eliminated roads with setbacks.  Then they eliminated wetlands.  There were other things too, and you could take the maps, starting with the big green circle around the substation, the roads covered it with varicose veins, the wetlands covered up a lot, and then residences with various setbacks, 1,200 feet, 2,600 feet or some big number, and even at that, the one he had, Greenfield Twp just 21 miles from the Metro  (I think it was Green and NOT GreenVALE, its the township Jared lives in out west), with big setbacks, there was room for a turbine or two (depending on the landowner, of course!).  With 1,200 foot setbacks, there was a LOT of room.  This needs to be done for all townships with setbacks of at least 1,200; 1,500; 1,750, 2,000, and 2,250 feet.  And I want to see this done around all gas plants, to use gas for wind backup.   And then transmission and wind map overlays — voila!  Wind Siting 1001.  He said it’s pretty easy to do.  SO, what will it take to get that done and have the Dept. of Commerce trot it around?

    • 36.1
      Ann Occhiato says:

      Carol,

      That seems like a very good idea for all townships to have something like that so when developers want to come in there is mapping of good locations already at hand.  Also, all counties should opt in to control 5megawatt -- 25megawatt wind projects.  A big part of the problem with the Greenvale project is that no one who knows the land or normally has a say in land use planning (done at the township level) is involved in the decision making process.  In this case, the Medins and Sparks described the environment inside the project area (not correctly either, I might add) in their application with no information included about the surrounding habitat.  Then, five folks on the PUC, who know nothing about the area, get to decide if the project is legit.   This system seems designed to overlook important considerations.  Why is wind exempted from environmental review?

      Also, Carol, do you know of any projects where turbines were spread out over a larger area instead of clustered?

  • 37
  • 38
    • 38.1
      Ann Occhiato says:

      Following is a letter to the editor I have submitted in response to today’s Star Tribune editorial. Seeing as this is about the tenth letter I have submitted to them without publication, I am including it here in hopes of some local readership. Thank you.

      I am writing in response to today’s editorial on increased wind turbine setbacks. While the editorial highlights the critical need to increase setbacks to maintain wind’s momentum, it minimizes the reasons why setbacks are important in the first place.

      There is, in fact, credible evidence that low frequency sound from wind turbines can have a negative impact on health. The Minnesota Dept. of Health’s white paper on the Public Health Impacts of Wind Turbines outlines this and recommends the cumulative affect of multiple turbines be taken into account when evaluating sound impacts, which is not currently done. There is a huge amount of circumstantial evidence from homeowners living near turbines all over the world on the negative impacts to quality of life, health, safety, and property values. While the wind industry and proponents of wind like to point to studies that minimize these issues, numerous other studies show these impacts to be real.

      The fact is there are serious issues related to wind farming that need to be addressed including setbacks, environmental regulation, property rights, health, safety, quality of life, and economic justice, among others. Industrial scale wind turbines clustered in “farms” can ruin neighborhoods and seriously alter the course of people’s lives. Belittling their concerns will not help the wind industry in Minnesota and it certainly does not make us a national leader.

      As wind continues to spread these problems will only become more pronounced. Increased setbacks, pre-permitting site guidelines, community support and involvement, alternative modeling, and other solutions are necessary for the continued growth of the wind industry in Minnesota. Developers, public officials, legislators, and environmental groups have a responsibility to address these issues.
      Ann Occhiato

  • 39
    Stephanie Henriksen says:

    Good letter, Ann. I have forwarrded your thoughts to a member of the House Energy Committee (State Legislature). He and I have spoken about the need for a larger (certainly more than the current 500′) setback before. I suggest submitting a resolution to that effect at caucuses Feb. 2.

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