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Wind farm plans worry neighbors

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GINA R. HEINE
December 27, 2007
— When Kevin and Lynda Kawula first heard about a wind farm proposal for Magnolia Township, they thought it sounded like a good idea.

But as they attended meetings and researched the issue, their opinions changed.


“It seemed like enough people were concerned that we got concerned,” he said.


They learned about wind farms and proposals in other parts of the state that included lawsuits and the demolition of homes.


“We thought if it really was about getting Wisconsin renewable energy, then we could come up with a better plan,” Kevin said.


Thus sprouted “Better Plan, Rock County,” a group of concerned residents to provide information about the local wind farm proposals and research renewable energy alternatives. The group does not have formal meetings, but the Kawulas developed and run a Web site at http://betterplan.squarespace.com.


They’ve also paid for ads in local newspapers urging residents to attend town wind meetings, and they’re providing information to town officials.


EcoEnergy is gathering data from a weather tower and is proposing a 67-turbine, 100-megawatt project for Magnolia Township. The company also wants to put up three turbines in Union Township.


The Kawulas live on Dorner Road in Spring Valley Township, just across the border of Magnolia Township. While EcoEnergy has not signed land agreements or released a map of proposed turbine sites, Kevin said turbines likely would be visible from their home because of the high elevation.


Across the road in Magnolia Township, Joanie and Donavon Mitchell share the Kawulas’ concerns.


“Fear of the unknown,” is how Joanie describes the thought of nearly 400-foot neighbors.


She said she’s worried about health and safety problems, the change in the landscape, wildlife and how big business would profit more than affected landowners. She’s frustrated by the lack of information from developers about where the turbines would be sited.


That information isn’t ready yet, said Curt Bjurlin, Wisconsin Project Developer of EcoEnergy.


The company should have maps available by late winter, but they won’t show the proposed locations of the turbines but rather the best suitable areas, he said.


Researching alternative energy has turned into a second job for the Kawulas, who both are self-employed.


“But that’s OK,” Kevin said. “If we’re here to figure out what we can do for our state and our country, that’s what I’m here to do.”


Kevin is a land preservationist who runs his own small native plant nursery, while Lynda is a writer and writing teacher.


Their opposition to the local wind farm proposals rest in two areas:


? Health and safety concerns for neighbors of the turbines.


? The idea that other renewable energy options such as solar or manure digesters are a better fit for Rock County.


The Kawulas visited the Montfort wind farm in Iowa County. It has 20 turbines with 30 megawatts of capacity.


“It’s like moving back into a metropolitan area,” he said. “It’s an airport where the planes never land.”


Being around the turbines and high voltage power lines make Kevin feel physically ill with pressure headaches, he said.


“I think it’s because they’re big machines that are generating electricity,” he said. “It’s just what they do.”


Bjurlin said he hasn’t seen any peer-reviewed, scientific studies that show turbines cause headaches.


Meeting the state’s mandate by 2015 of producing 10 percent of its energy from a renewable source—one of the big reasons why wind energy is increasing—could be done on a household level, Kevin said.


The Kawulas, for example, eliminated the need for propane by heating with wood and hanging their clothes instead of using a dryer. The couple also are looking into a solar energy system for their home. People could reduce their lawnmower use by reducing the size of their lawn with wildflowers, Kevin said.


The millions of dollars that would be poured into the wind farm could pay for manure digesters for every big dairy farm in Rock County and solar panel systems for municipal buildings, Kevin said.


The Kawulas want to say, “Nice try, but let’s go back to the drawing board.”


“It’s a marginal market for wind here, not that it wouldn’t be profitable,” Kevin said. “For them it would, but I don’t know if it would be profitable for us as a society.”


EcoEnergy is a renewable energy company interested in all forms, Bjurlin said, and company officials think it’s appropriate for communities to investigate all options including solar and biomass. But, the company is only pursuing wind energy for Magnolia Township, he said.


To meet their company’s renewable energy portfolio standards set by the state, wind energy is the most easily scaled up to utility size, he said.


Kevin and Joanie said that while the money landowners would receive to host the turbines looks good for retirement, it pales in comparison to what the developers make.


“I don’t feel like it’s a partnership. It’s something else,” Kevin said.


The industry standard landowners receive for each 1.5 MW turbine on their land is $4,200 to $4,500 annually, and EcoEnergy expects to be around that ballpark, Bjurlin said.


Wisconsin wants to be the greenest state in the nation, and that’s what officials are focused on—not the best plan for our country, Joanie said.


“People don’t know what to expect,” she said of the turbines. “I don’t think they have any idea how high 400 feet is.”


TO LEARN MORE
To learn more about Better Plan, Rock County, visit its Web site at betterplan.squarespace.com or e-mail Kevin and Lynda Kawula at betterplan.rockcounty@gmail.com.

“The worst thing that can happen to a community is to have it torn apart by rumors and false information,” Lynda said. “It seems there has been a lot of strife and heartbreak in Magnolia Township over other issues, and I’ve found the people here to be extra cautious and even fearful of expressing their concerns.”


People contacting the couple can remain anonymous on the site. Lynda said she hopes the site provides a forum for people to feel secure enough to come forward with questions and have a place to go for information.



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