Dangerous windmills?

EDITORIAL

BY ART CULLEN

New wind turbine development in western Iowa is  being opposed by some rural residents who fear that the windmills pose threats to human health and wildlife. A group has organized in Clay, Palo Alto and Kossuth counties to oppose renewable energy development, and some members are lobbying the Sac and Ida County Boards of Supervisors to put up more stringent rules about turbine distances from residences. Iowa Public Radio published a big story about it on Sept. 10. The Ida County ordinance requires that turbines cannot be closer than a third of a mile from a home. Many residents wanted a distance of a mile away, which would effectively prevent development.

Some people are spreading unfounded reports that wind turbines harm birds — President Trump made such a statement in Cedar Rapids. If that is so, why do so many geese grease the sidewalks along the lake, just a couple miles from the oldest turbine complex in Iowa? Has anyone picked up a dead crow near at the foot of a wind pedestal? And, if there are ill effects to humans one would think that litigation would be filed, that complaints would be heard around Storm Lake, that health care experts would weigh in. None of that has happened. The whir of the turbine can be annoying. But the owner of the home willingly signed a contract to get paid to have that windmill on their land close enough to hear it, or close enough to be bothered by the blades’ shadow flickering — there is even a county rule about that, that the flicker cannot exceed 30 hours per year. The best defense against a bad contract is a good lawyer, not a protest movement based on misinformation.

A farmer from Ruthven called us a couple weeks ago to see if we could take up the cause against wind energy. She claimed that the amount of wind energy Iowa generates is inconsequential to the world carbon load created in large part by coal-burning electric plants. We are not building any new coal-fired plants because of their pollution and relative inefficiency compared to newer forms of generation. It is nearly impossible to build a new nuclear plant because we don’t know how to safely dispose of the waste. That leaves wind and solar as two promising forms of generation that do not increase the carbon load that creates climate change. The Iowa Legislature is doing all it can to snuff out the infant solar industry in Iowa, which is said to have as much generation potential as Florida. We already are Number One in wind power per capita — nearly half our electricity comes from turbines, located mainly within 40 miles of Storm Lake. We are the epicenter.

Property taxes from wind turbines have taken the heat off the Ridge View schools budget. That revenue will help a school with declining enrollment survive and serve Galva, Holstein, Nemaha, Schaller and Early. They might help secure the future of those communities. And, what good is being safe from wind turbines’ inconvenience or irritation if the communities die because they can’t support a school anymore? Tax revenue to Ida County at full scale amounts to $2.4 million per year. That extra revenue is poured into improving secondary roads worn out by truck traffic serving livestock confinements. In Buena Vista County, it helps keep down the property tax rate.

As far as aesthetics go, a wind turbine looks better than a cottonwood tree spewing its seeds into air conditioners. It looks as good as a hoghouse or an old barn full of holes with a quilt on it. It looks beautiful when you consider how many tons of carbon are not sent into the atmosphere to power your cellphone with which you call county supervisors to complain about turbines. Just how are we going to power the most energy-hungry nation on Earth? By burning cow chips?

Plus, landowners make pretty decent money for doing exactly nothing after they sign a contract that their lawyer should have reviewed.

Show us the dead birds. Who are the people who cannot sleep in Alta? Why can people sleep next to the railroad tracks but not near a wind turbine? The flicker of the wind blade is no more severe on the psyche or the eyes than a plasma TV set. This is the one bright light in rural America and people have been convinced by someone else to snuff it out. We wonder who that someone is.