Concerns about health have some Crofte Township residents opposed to a nearby wind farm.
NextEra Energy proposed last fall to build five wind turbines within the township. Some adjacent landowners and nearby neighbors are concerned about the nearness of the towers to their homes.
“Our primary concern is health and lack of sleep,” Crofte Township resident Geralyn Laurie said.
Three of the towers will be about a third of a mile from Marc and Geralyn Laurie’s home. The towers will be visible from the family’s dining room window. When they step out the front door, they will see two more towers to the northwest.
The township residents received letters in the fall about a proposed wind farm on a plot of land near 201 Ave. N.E. and 106th St. N.E., east of Baldwin. Company representatives also went door-to-door to get residents to sign participation agreements. NextEra, based in Florida, has more than 9,000 wind turbines in 17 states and Canadian provinces.
“To date, we have never had a documented health claim related to any project built,” said Steve Stengal, a company spokesman.
Some of the residents, like the Lauries, are bothered that the setback, which is the distance from the home to the tower, has changed from a half-mile to a third of a mile. Complaints about wind towers tend to diminish the farther they are located from a home.
At a meeting in Baldwin early in the process, a majority of the residents wanted at least a mile setback, according to Ray Wald and Zac Crane, who were at the meeting.
“Then everything went backward,” Wald said.
Instead of the mile setback some residents said they wanted, it became a half-mile, then the Burleigh County Commission set it at 1,750 feet. At this distance, residents are concerned about sleep disturbances and problems concentrating because of the noise, shadow and flicker caused by the wind towers.
Representatives from NextEra said the company is working within the setbacks approved by the North Dakota Public Service Commission. The minimum setback by the PSC is 1,400 feet from a home.
The Lauries are concerned about being able to sleep because of potential disturbances caused by the nearness of the towers. They also worry about how the noises from the towers will affect their children’s education. They home school their children.
“We have a real concern because we are here all the time,” Geralyn Laurie said. “I’m concerned about the noise. I’m not sure how it will affect their schooling, sleeping and playing.”
Various studies show a variety of effects from wind towers, from property devaluation to health effects. The residents brought up some of these studies with Nextera.
“We are well aware of the literature brought forward ... It is non-peer reviewed,” said
NextEra Development Director Scott Scovall. “Anybody can post it online.”
Instead, the company provided the Burleigh County Commission with a compilation of research that supports its stance that wind towers do not pose health risks. The information is on the company’s website.
The noise from wind towers isn’t likely to cause problems with hearing, because of restrictions on decibel levels, but some doctors see patients because of concerns about the noise.
“It has been a pretty big issue nationwide and worldwide,” Medcenter One audiologist Brady Ness said. “This type of noise is more an annoyance than damage.”
People complaining about symptoms related to wind turbine noise usually will be referred to an audiologist to rule out hearing problems, he said. Most of the time, people complain of lack of sleep and fatigue related to their sensitivity to the wind turbine noise, Ness said.
“The broadband whooshing noise is not a whole lot different than the noises a secretary has in an office environment,” Ness said.
Some people are better able to tune out the noise, and other factors determine how much noise a family will hear from a wind tower. The noise will be more noticeable if the home is downwind of a turbine. Also, newer wind turbines have better silencing technology than older turbines, he said.
Residents are asked to sign a participation agreement, which does not let residents hold the company liable for wind turbines’ effects.
“With signing the agreement, people are dealing with it and not complaining,” resident Jamie Crane said. “They can’t come to the meetings and say it.”
Stengal, the NextEra spokesman, disagrees that the participation agreement or confidentiality clause precludes people from making a complaint against the company regarding their health.
“You cannot contract away health concerns,” Stengal said.
The agreements give the wind company easements across the landowner’s property for 99 years. The landowner is paid a $1,000 signing bonus and an annual $1,000 payment in exchange for the easements, as well as agreeing to not talk about the contract or hold the company liable for health concerns stemming from the operation of the wind turbine.
In addition to health concerns, some of the residents are concerned about how the towers will affect animals on their property. The Lauries’ children have a pony they like to ride in the field behind their house.
“Will my children be able to ride in the field because of the noise and shadow flicker?” Geralyn Laurie said.
The Lauries’ neighbor, Zac Crane, also has concerns about how the towers will affect animals. He owns a horse-training business and worries that he’d have to board horses longer to adjust to the conditions created by the towers because young horses spook easily. That could make him unable to compete with other horse trainers if he has to raise his rates and extend the time it takes to train a horse.
The company cited studies that the towers do not affect livestock, Crane said, but horses behave differently to sights and sounds when compared to cattle.
“It doesn’t seem to bother a cow, but I don’t ride a cow,” Crane said. “I ride a horse. There is no science on how it will affect my operation.”
Wind towers should be operational either later this year or in 2011. The residents are concerned the turbines will void many of the reasons they moved out there, such as no need for curtains and the ability to keep windows open.
“You don’t live out here to close your windows,” Crane said.”We didn’t want to move out here to stay in our house.”
(Reach reporter Sara Kincaid at 250-8251 or firstname.lastname@example.org)