Wind energy backers remain Highland boosters
The wind was howling throughout the Town of Forest on Friday. It would have been a good day to help turn large wind energy turbines.
If Highland Wind Farm developers get their way, 41 turbines will be installed across that rural township landscape by the end of next year. A large number of local residents are up in arms over the idea. Still others are perfectly fine with the plans.
For the past couple years, as the controversy over the planned wind farm picked up steam, supporters of the project have typically stayed quietly in the background. Yet many landowners who have agreed to host one of the turbines on their properties remain staunch backers of the alternative energy development.
Along 200th Avenue, Marvin and Denise Voeltz stand ready to accept two turbines on their farmstead if and when the Highland project moves ahead.
One major step in the approval process is now here. Public hearings hosted by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin were slated for Tuesday in Madison and this Thursday, Oct. 11, in the Town of Forest.
Once public comments have been gathered, the PSC will determine if the wind farm will proceed.
Marvin Voeltz said he expects the project to be approved and that electricity will start to be generated by Forest turbines before long.
Voeltz points to a small windmill in his yard, which used to pump water for his grandparents when they operated the farmstead decades ago. If wind power worked then, he claimed, there's no reason why it can't work today.
"It's about time we start producing some of our own electricity instead of depending on other countries for our energy," he said. "Wind has got to be the safest way and the healthiest way. It can't cause any problems."
Voeltz said his family visited a wind farm project in eastern Wisconsin, also developed by Emerging Energies of Wisconsin LLC, and he was impressed with what he saw.
"We were tired of all the hearsay," Voeltz said. "We wanted to take a look at these and see for ourselves what it was like."
He said the turbines were quiet and not a blight on the rural community. Through additional research, Voeltz said, he feels the turbines are also not a threat to public health.
"If there was a health issue with wind turbines, why are they in other countries and all around the U.S.?" he asked. "The government surely would never let them start up if there was a problem."
Opponents of the project claim that families living near turbines have complained about negative health impacts from their operation. Opponents say the Highland proposal places some turbines as close as 1,250 feet from existing homes, and that's too close due to health concerns.
Voeltz admitted that it's unfortunate the wind controversy has pitted neighbors against neighbors and family members against family members across Forest, but he still feels the wind farm project is what's best for the township. He said he's glad he signed on to have turbines placed on his land.
"I just think this will be a big benefit to the township, the county, the state and even to the United States," he explained. "If we can produce our own power, instead of having other countries do it for us, it will be a real plus."
Yvonne Fouks, who has signed on to host three turbines, agreed.
She said renewable energy sources are needed and she's thrilled that Forest will likely be a player in wind energy.
Fouks said the payments she'll receive will be helpful to her family, but that was not the motivation behind her decision to host the turbines. She's more excited about the annual payments that will be generated for the Town of Forest and St. Croix County.
"The payments to us are the last thing on my mind, really," she said. "This is really going to benefit our township and our county. We'll be able to fix roads and do other things with the payments that will be made."
Larry McNamara was one of the last wind turbine hosts to sign on with the Highland Wind Farm project. When developer Emerging Energies decided to increase the size of its project, and thus bypass the township's control over the plans, he signed a contract to allow the project to move forward.
Unlike what opponents claim, McNamara said he feels the wind farm will help Forest maintain its rural heritage.
"Instead of parceling up the farm land to build homes, the turbines will help us to keep this area more country," he said. "I would sooner put up a wind turbine than to parcel out my land."
McNamara, too, is surprised by the passionate opposition to the project, but said landowners should be allowed to do whatever they want with their land. That includes allowing a turbine to be installed.
"I don't see any harm with it," he said.
McNamara claimed he's suffered some retribution as a result of his stance on the wind farm project. For more than a year, McNamara said he's been trying to get township permission to operate a lime quarry on his land. He said the current town board, which is fighting to stop Highland Wind Farm, refuses to give him permission to use township roads to haul the mined lime.
"They're just bitter because of the wind turbines," he said. "I've lost a year's worth of revenue. It's kind of upsetting."
The PSC will be meeting at the Forest Town Hall at 2 and 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, to gather comments. Anyone wishing to provide input is invited to attend.