Fate of Second Largest Wind Installation in the Midwest in the hands of 50 Wisconsin landowners.
Published in Dodgeville Chronicle, December 31, 2020
Too few residents of Southwest Wisconsin are aware that a Canadian-owned, multinational corporation, Pattern LLC,2 has salespersons on the ground encouraging landowners to sign agree-ments allowing the company to construct at least 1703, industrial-scale wind turbines across Iowa and Lafayette Counties. With heights of around 650 feet, views of the system would permeate the natural horizon from the outskirts of Madison to the bluffs of the Mis-sisippi River4 negatively affect-ing property values over 250 square miles of the Driftless area.5
Were it not for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission publishing Pattern paperwork in late November6, no one would have learned that the fate of the proposal essentially rests on the signatures of about 507 landowners who are likely to be insufficiently informed. In the experience of Iowa farmer, Mason Fleenor, looking back on his decision observed,
“Nobody knew they were going to be this loud, or hurt our property values or be this big. . . No one wants to build around these windmills so you just cut your economic activity down. . . I just want to see the countryside.”8
Local and state taxes are no longer collected for land with wind turbines. Independent studies estimate property value losses from 15 to 45%.9 Landowners and local officials must stop and consider that the diverted state tax dollar payments to partially cover these losses would fall at least $100 million short over 40 years if only 1% of the affected properties were sold per year at a 10% loss.10
Local tax bases would be forever compromised causing mill rates to soar at the same time compatible, agricultural, residential and business development vanishes.
Keep in mind that unaffected farmland in Wisconsin appreciates in value at the rate of about 4% per year. Landowners pondering the possibility of net income from a 40 year wind turbine lease are encouraged to do the property devaluation math (and get an experienced attorney to carefully review the 60 page contract!). Should the value of one’s land drop at the national average, it would take decades of lease payments to make up for this loss.11 The “option agreement” also forces a landowner to give up rights to determine where turbines, wide access roads and electrical lines would be located12. This uncertainty makes it impossible to accurately in-form neighbors of pending hard ships, not to mention, obtain their informed blessings.
Readers with any doubt that turbine noise thoroughly shatters natural soundscapes and peaceful living are encouraged to spend some time internet searching for personal video testimony about “wind turbine noise.”13 Wisconsin state code allows turbines to generate 45 dBA sound levels during the night and 50 dBA during the day.14 The turbine sound described as a “hovering plane”15 is about four times louder than quiet sounds that comprise natural sounds.16 The resulting sleeplessness, nausea, disorientation and depression has forced Wisconsin families to vacate their homes and farms with turbines half the size of those being proposed.17 Follow this search with “wind turbine shadow flicker,” an equally disruptive experience that Wisconsin code also allows households to endure. 18
And there are better alternatives for address of climate change and for our pocketbooks.
Wisconsin already has more electrical power plants than we can use.19 (Table 2). As electric customers, we must pay the high interest debt on existing and added power plants over 40 or more years whether fully utilized or not. Pattern’s inferred electric bill savings from the “zero fuel costs”20 of wind power compare very poorly to directly addressing our CO2 and economic challenges with familiar alternatives. If the approximate, 40 year, $1.8 billion cost21 for the 600 MW Uplands wind power plant was invested, instead, into dramatically increased Focus on Energy rebates for efficiency and solar power improvements for our homes, farms and businesses, this would eliminate about 115 million metric tons of CO2 emissions over 40 years compared to 58 million metric tons from the intrusive power plant.22 (Table 3). Alternatively doubling the home/business solar panel incentive to 52 cents of the approximate $2.50 per watt cost could empower about 450,000 households to “go solar” and save an average of $143 per month.23 Creating attractive appliance and equipment rebates for Wisconsin families and businesses would enable long overdue efficiency and dwelling improvements with the superior environmental results.24
The federal report also confirms that the 600 MW wind system is fully dependent on building the Cardinal Hickory Creek 345 kV expansion trans-mission line which Iowa and Dane Counties are trying to appeal in court. 25 26
Immediate sharing of these findings is critical as Pattern salespeople are working daily to get the 50 additional contract signatures before February 24, 2021.27 Hopefully, both the Iowa and Lafayette County Boards will act quickly to at least add the minimal, still insufficient protections from state code to their Wind Ordinances.28
The additional signed agreements from landowners would allow Pattern to take their power plant proposal directly to the PSC for likely approval as state laws do not require such plants to be evaluated for need or require that benefits from alternative investments be compared.29
— by Rob Danielson, Secretary, SOUL of Wisconsin
PO Box 146
La Farge, WI 54639
1 The 162 Megawatt (MW) Glacier Hills Wind power plant is Wisconsin’s largest. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_Wisconsin Only the 801 Megawatt (MW) Meadow Lake power plant near Chalmers, Indiana would be larger in Midwest states. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wind_farms_in_the_United_States
2 Pattern LLC financials: https://investors.patternenergy.com/financial-information See also: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/pattern-energy-enters-agreement-to-be-acquired-by-canada-pension-plan-investment-board-300950682.html
3 According to Pattern’s filing to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2020, the Uplands wind system would be 600 Megawatts (MW). https://bit.ly/FERC-ER21-30-000-20201005 The estimated minimum number of turbines was determined by dividing this number by 3.5 MW assumed to be the size of the largest, modern turbines. (600 MW / 3.5 MW = 171.4 turbines)
4 See map of the Uplands project area, above, and as inserted into a highlands area view scape map at p.4 of https://bit.ly/Uplands-editorial Pattern LLC has not yet publicized turbine height information. October 2018 materials distributed to prospective property participants near Montfort, WI concerning the Red Barn wind power plant, specify turbine heights ranging from 459 to 656 feet. Viewed from highland positions, objects that are 650 feet high can be seen for 38.7 miles, line of sight. https://planetcalc.com/1198/ Nocturnal visibility from highland locations would extend more than 30 miles based on lights mounted at a rotor hight of 410’. For reference, the smaller, 2 MW wind turbines at Quilt Block in the Town on Seymour in Lafayette County can easily be seen from Montfort, Wisconsin, 24 miles away.
5 The measurement of 250 square miles is an approximation based on Pattern’s Uplands study area map in the company’s August, 2020 presentation to the Iowa County Planning & Zoning Committee. A larger view of the blue outlined area is embedded in the middle image on page 5 at http://bit.ly/UplandsPowerpointForIACo202008
7 FERC’s publication indicates the Pattern LLC reported to have signed about 15,000 acres of property under “site control” of the 30,000 acres required by regional transmission owners under the auspices of MISO. https://bit.ly/FERC-ER21-30-000-20201005 According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, the size of the average farm in Wisconsin is 221 acres. https://datcp.wi.gov/Pages/Publications/WIAgStatistics.aspx Dividing the remaining 15,000 acres into 221 acre sized parcels suggests an average of 67.8 agricultural property owners would be involved. The estimation of 50 assumes the company will focus on property owners with larger parcels for greater siting flexibilities and fewer affected neighbors.
8 Video interview by Zach Boyden-Holmes with Mason Fleenor (Ida Grove, IA) from Des Moines Register article, “Is wind power saving rural Iowa or wrecking it?” by Donnelle Eller, and Kevin Hardy, April 20, 2017 http://bit.ly/WindWreckingIowa_DesMoinesRegister
9 See comparison of utility-funded and independent studies of wind turbine impacts on property values collected by McCann: http://bit.ly/WindTurbinePropertyValueImpactKielischMcCann Utility studies pose there are modest negative impact on values while those conducted by independent evaluators show very significant range of losses from 15-45% with an average of 29%.
10 See summary table “Tab 2,” on spreadsheet https://bit.ly/Uplands-StateTaxPayment_v_PropertyDevaluation
11 See Tab 1 – Adjusted Lease Income With Property Devaluation table at spreadsheet with calculations at: https://bit.ly/Uplands-StateTaxPayment_v_PropertyDevaluation
12 “Section 2.2 Wind Energy Conversion Systems . . . The exact location of such wind energy conversion systems shall be determined by the Developer in its sole discretion. . . ” and discretionary location rights in Section 2.3 Transmission Facilities and Roads with 80’ easement strips for electrical lines and up to 20’ widths for access roads. The contract also enables the Developer to add transformers, battery storage facilities and relocate equipment at sole discretion.
14 PSC Code PSC 128.14(3) https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/administrativecode/PSC%20128.14(3) Dr. Robert Rand discusses the sub-sonic phenomena starting at 1 hour, 27 minutes into this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=2kvoZO-DEho&feature=youtu.be
16Assumes nocturnal, rural background ambience of 25 dBA and daytime ambience of 30 dBA. 10 dBA is assumed as perceived doubled loudness. https://www.quora.com/How-many-dB-decibels-represent-a-doubling-or-halving-of-the-sound-volume?share=1
17 Wisconsin Wind Turbines Declared Health Hazard First of its kind ruling; similar to Michigan situation, By Jack Spencer, November 8, 2014, Michigan Capitol Confidential https://www.michigancapitolconfidential.com/20690
18 See Shadow flicker limits. PSC 128.15(2)(2) https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/administrativecode/PSC%20128.15(2)
19 See Table, Wisconsin Power Plants Excess Capability, pdf p. 5, https://bit.ly/Uplands-editorial Data in the table compiled from announced new power plants and retirements in Wisconsin Public Service Commission 2020-2026 Strategic Energy Assessment https://apps.psc.wi.gov/ERF/ERFview/viewdoc.aspx?docid=390854 , new plants sought in the MISO Interconnection Queue https://www.misoenergy.org/planning/generator-interconnection/GI_Queue/gi-interactive-queue/ US Department of Energy (EIA) Form 861 and SEDS records for WI, US census and inflation data.
20 From Uplands Wind FAQ, “How does wind energy affect the cost of energy? The cost of electricity from wind energy is predictable and stable because there are no fuel costs, unlike conventional forms of energy where the cost of fuel can fluctuate significantly over time. Once a wind farm project is built, the price of electricity from the project is set for the duration of its power purchase agreement.” https://uplandswind.com/faq/
24 Energy and CO2 reduction benefits sourced from Focus on Energy Calendar Year 2016 Evaluation Report Volume I May 19, 2017 https://www.focusonenergy.com/sites/default/files/Evaluation%20Report%20-%202016%20Volume%20I.pdf and correspondence with EPA staff regarding use of the AVoided Emissions and geneRation Tool (AVERT).
25 From pdf p. 2 FERC November, 2020 communication, “Pattern Energy Wind states that, on June 22, 2020, it submitted two generator interconnection requests to MISO to interconnect the Project via two queue positions: (1) an interconnection to American Transmission Company’s Hill Valley to Cardinal 345 kV line; and (2) an interconnection to the Hill Valley 345 kV substation.” https://bit.ly/FERC-ER21-30-000-20201005 Note: The Hill Valley substation near Montfort does not exist today. It is a central component of the Cardinal Hickory Creek 345 kV transmission line.
26 Dane, Iowa counties challenge power line approval, says regulators abused discretion, by Chris Hubbuch, Wisconsin State Journal Dec 13, 2019, https://madison.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/dane-iowa-counties-challenge-power-line-approval-says-regulators-abused/article_d8c2abb0-c86c-51c7-97fe-44d3bd94b426.html
28 Iowa County Draft Updated Wind Ordinance starting on pdf. p. 68 https://evogov.s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/meetings/107/attachments/9206.pdf Contact information for Iowa and Lafayette County Wind Ordnance matters: Iowa Co. Supervisor Districts, map: https://www.iowacounty.org/media/Districts.pdf Iowa Co. Supervisors contacts: https://www.iowacounty.org/departments/countyboard/county-board-members Iowa County Planning & Development 222 N. Iowa St. Dodgeville, WI 53533 608-935-0398; Lafayette County Planning and Zoning Committee: 626 Main Street, Darlington, WI 53530, 608-776-3836 Lafayette Co. Map of Supervisor Districts: http://lafay.maps.arcgis.com/sharing/rest/content/items/2c8f689496e3499aaea639ffd2fac00d/data Lafayette County Supervisor contacts: https://www.lafayettecountywi.org/bos
29 Pattern LLC is considered a non-public utility or “merchant” developer. Proposals by merchant power plant developers do not have to prove need to meet power inadequacies or evaluate alternatives such as electric customer investment in home and local energy improvements. State laws also allow merchant power plant developers to take their proposals directly to the PSC for review and approval after obtaining 75% of the necessary land or “site control,” “Option Agreements” with landowners. For more on MISO site control policy, see .pdf p. 20, 21, Generation Interconnection Business Practices Manual BPM-015-r21 Effective Date: OCT-16-2019 https://drive.google.com/file/d/1UzsdEJQqiky-6rxIxIXTfbEtDjF0WKm4/view?usp=sharing