Goodhue County residents question wind farmBELLE CREEK TOWNSHIP - Bruce and Marie McNamara look across the gravel road adjacent to their farm and see signs of what's coming.
By: Jen Cullen, The Republican Eagle
BELLE CREEK TOWNSHIP - Bruce and Marie McNamara look across the gravel road adjacent to their farm and see signs of what's coming.
A tall tower off in the distance silently measures wind speeds across Belle Creek and Goodhue townships.
The McNamaras can't see them, but in the homes under the shadow of that tower businessmen are pressuring residents to sign on the dotted line.
This, the McNamaras are slowly learning, is what happens when companies want to build wind farms in your neighborhood.
"You see your friends or relatives sign leases and they are being promised financial benefits," Bruce said earlier this week. "Should we cave to that even if we feel there are some serious concerns?"
Two companies - Goodhue Wind and Geronimo Wind - want to build dozens of wind turbines in similar areas of rural Goodhue County.
The projects are so large that the permit must be approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. County officials have relatively little say in the process.
Neither company has been given approval to build but both are courting land owners to invest in their projects, a requirement under the Community Based Energy Development status granted to both companies by county commissioners.
Wind energy is a relatively new industry county officials admit they don't know much about.
The McNamaras and a group of other concerned families know the feeling. They have been working hard the past few months educating themselves about wind energy.
Their research has put them in touch with people across the world and led them to believe more regulations and safety concerns need to be addressed before projects like those proposed in Goodhue County should continue.
The McNamaras are quickly discovering, however, that questioning wind energy could put them in a dicey position. Some of their neighbors are strong wind energy supporters.
"It's going to get really intense," Marie said.
But the McNamaras and other concerned residents are still asking questions. They feel it's their responsibility.
And they want other people to start asking questions.
"If citizens don't educate themselves it will be taken out of their hands," Marie said. "It's not like we're not trying to research it and be fair. We want to know the truth."
Through their research, the McNamaras say they've learned that community owned wind farms are not all they're cracked up to be.
The couple says regulations do not adequately protect residents' health and safety. State regulations allow turbines to be built within 500 feet of homes. Marie thinks it should be one mile.
Other research, the McNamaras said, indicates that home and land values could decline 15 percent over the first two years the turbines are in place.
The couple is also concerned the wind farms will destroy prime agricultural land.
"What will it affect? What will it do?" Marie wonders. "We don't know."
Beyond environmental, health and safety concerns, the McNamaras also wonder how these projects - if approved - will change the community.
Marie said residents living near wind farms in other areas across the country have run into a host of issues.
"It's led to many other frictions in the community," Marie said. "It's really destroying the social fabric in some of these communities."
The McNamaras and other concerned citizens used their own money to put a flier called "Wind Turbine Truths" in the Republican Eagle (see it online at www.republican-eagle.com) and say they will continue encouraging people to research before signing away their land for wind turbines.
"Even if this does happen, at least we tried to let people know the facts," Bruce said. "Everyone needs to make their own decision. But remember that they can hold off building it because the wind will still blow. Caution should be exercised now."