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One year in

By Staff | Jul 25, 2017

It’s hard to miss the landscape of Iowa’s wind turbines that line the corn and bean fields in rural parts of the state. Wind energy is now defining Iowa in a similar way to pigs, corn, and soybeans.

On July 26, 2016, Alan Blum and Jeff Hammond changed the game for Emmet County when they announced the RedRock project, which will be a $700 million investment in Emmet and a piece of Dickinson county.

Any big idea attracts opposition, and wind energy is no different. Critics such as Coalition for Rural Property Rights cite concerns over noise and flicker, as well as concerns about wildlife and the possible unsightly appearance of turbines.

Coalition for Rural Property Rights, based in Palo Alto County, is part of the 2,200- member list of International anti-wind groups. Last week, the Coalition hosted Terry McGovern, an associate professor of Accounting and Business at Clarke University to meetings in Spencer and Emmetsburg to share his view of economics and problems associated with industrial wind turbines. The group leaders are reluctant to give their names, and to provide information outside of their meetings.

McGovern favors a process of determining setbacks from residences. “I recommend a sub-committee made up of various parties [including] people who support, people who oppose, and health officials to determine what an appropriate distance is for county residents,” McGovern said.

McGovern has seen county votes turn out in the 60-40 or 70-30 range in favor of reasonable county setbacks for wind turbines from residents. Lincoln County, S.D., for example, voted 58 percent in favor of a setback of one-half mile.

Lucas Nelsen, a policy program associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, said the voice of objectors grows because wind development is growing.

“As wind continues to decline in price, as it gets easier to build more efficient turbines, and as the technology improves, we’re going to see wind in more places than we used to, which means people who are unfamiliar with wind energy will experience it more often.”

The numbers indicate the project will provide a significant economic lift to the county. The early phase of the project, including installing the turbines and working in operations will bring $100 million to the local economy in the form of permanent jobs, construction and maintenance jobs, spending at local stores, hotels and restaurants, and more, Hammond said.

The taxes paid to Emmet County will phase in to 30 percent, Hammond said.

“We continue to have a great deal of success in leasing land for the project,” Hammond said. ” We also have experienced a great deal of interest in purchasing the clean, renewable electricity from the project.”

One hundred eighty landowners have signed leases, and 80,000 acres will be involved in the project. Of those 80,000 acres, only one to two percent of arable land will be taken out of service, including all land for roads, turbine foundations and maintenance building. Once operational, the project is expected to produce enough power for approximately 108,000 homes. The project is one of the most energetic wind development sites in Iowa.

The project, according to Tradewinds Energy, will also be great for the environment, offsetting approximately 220,000 passenger vehicles and over 1,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. It is expected to have no material effect on any threatened and endangered species of birds or animals, based on third party studies.

Estherville continues to be at the center of wind energy with the Wind Energy & Turbine Technology (WTT) program held in the SERT building at Iowa Lakes Community College.

Program director Dan Lutat has said wind tech is the fastest growing occupation in the United States.

Iowa Lakes Community College is also co-hosting the Power of WE- Midwest Technical Conference for wind energy with the Iowa Wind Energy Association. The conference is happening Oct. 24-26 at the college. The conference is also host to the Wind Warrior Competition, in which wind techs compete in core competencies and skill exercises.