MONROE, Wis. – The subjects of wind power, noise, and health impacts converged and took center stage at an August 6 educational forum held at the local Super 8 Motel, a few miles northwest of the proposed location for the hotly debated Sugar River Wind Farm. RENEW Wisconsin and Clean Wisconsin teamed up to organize the forum, which drew about 25 people from around the area.
Proposed by EDF Renewables, one of the largest wind development companies active in North America, the Sugar River Wind Farm would consist of 24 utility-scale wind turbines located in the Town of Jefferson, which borders Illinois. The proposal, now under review by the Green County Zoning Administrator, must comply with the siting standards established by rule in Chapter 128 of the Public Service Commission’s code.
The education forum came at the heels of a public hearing on the proposed wind farm held at the Green County Courthouse in Monroe. At the July 30th hearing, about 30 Green County residents expressed their views on the Sugar River project. Many of those who spoke expressed concern about sound from the turbines, which some believe have adverse health impacts.
The August 6 event led off with a presentation by Michael Hankard, a Verona-based expert on environmental noise who has assessed many wind power projects around the country. Hankard’s presentation began with an overview on acoustics before zeroing in on the noise standards that wind turbines must comply with and what he has learned through his measurements and analysis.
Hankard noted that the maximum sound limit specified in PSC 128 (45 dBa) is in line with what health authorities recommend, including Health Canada and the World Health Organization. Among the Upper Midwest states that have established noise standards for wind turbines, only South Dakota’s standard is as stringent as the limit prescribed in Wisconsin, Hankard said.
Referring to Health Canada’s 2014 study, Hankard said: “The government of Canada performed the most extensive study done on wind turbine health impacts and noise impacts that’s ever been done. Their conclusion was that under 46 dBA, there are no demonstrated health effects. Yes, there is annoyance, some people are annoyed with noise at that level, but it’s not a health concern.”
Responding to a question on whether larger wind turbines produce more noise than smaller turbines, Hankard said: “The answer is no, but that is because they turn slower. They put out less noise across the entire frequency spectrum. The measurements bear it out.”
On the subject of low frequency noise and infrasound, Hankard said that wind turbines do not produce significant amounts of either type of sound, adding that medical science does not support any linkage between turbine-generated sound at low and ultralow frequencies and adverse health effects.
The Sugar River project will comply with State of Wisconsin standards, Hankard said, noting that acoustical science has become “scarily accurate” at predicting measured sound emissions from wind turbines at neighboring houses.
Energy Choices, Climate Change, and Human Health
In the panel session that followed, the focus shifted from the acoustical properties of wind turbines to a broader discussion that encompassed energy choices, climate change, and human health. The lineup of speakers included:
Jed Downs, a medical professional currently practicing osteopathic manual medicine in Madison; and
Jeff Rich, former Executive Director of Gundersen Envision, which designed a ground-breaking sustainable energy portfolio for La Crosse-based Gundersen Health System.
Laeser is also an agriculture and water quality specialist for Clean Wisconsin. Both Lewandowski and Downs are steering committee members of the Wisconsin Environmental Health Network, while Jeff Rich recently joined RENEW Wisconsin’s Board of Directors.
All the panelists agreed that deriving energy from carbon-based fuels creates a host of health and environmental impacts that go beyond the range of annoyance that a few people experience related to wind turbines.
“Things like asthma, cardiovascular disease, that’s easy for people to understand, but there are a lot of other effects from burning fossil fuels,” Lewandowski said.
While Lewandowski acknowledged that audible noise from wind turbines can be a concern for some, the choice between continuing to burn fossil fuels vs. living near a zero-carbon energy source is clear-cut.
“I would much rather have something that produces the same decibel level as a refrigerator than the effects [of burning fossil fuels] documented here,” he said while holding up an issue of The Lancet, a medical research journal.
On the subject of self-reported claims of health impacts, Downs said: “There’s a small percentage of people who experience that stress,” noting that this phenomenon is dependent on the person’s financial relationship to the wind project and their attitudes towards clean energy.
“It’s a sticky wicket to talk about stress and health effects, because we don’t know the strengths of the relationships in play,” he said.
Rich encouraged audience members to visit other wind power projects and talk to the people who live near them. “I’d be the first to help connect people if they want to go to Cashton to see the turbines right on the edge of town next to Organic Valley’s distribution center. People are there every day.”
In addition to thanking our featured speakers, RENEW and Clean Wisconsin wish to acknowledge both Gof Thompson, a long-time Clean Wisconsin board member and Green County resident who cheerfully kicked off the program with a few observations and anecdotes, and Art Bartsch, who graciously agreed to host the program in the energy-efficient, solar-powered motel he owns in Monroe.
Video of the entire Wind Energy and Health event can be viewed HERE.
Today, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, and Public Service Commission Chair Becky Cameron Valcq announced an Executive Order to create the Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy within the state’s Department of Administration.
The office shall, “In partnership with other state agencies and state utilities, achieve a goal of ensuring all electricity consumed within the State of Wisconsin is 100% carbon-free by 2050.”
RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director Tyler Huebner issued the following statement:
“The cost of utility-scale solar has declined 88% in the past decade, and utility-scale wind costs have declined 69% as well.Utilities across America and in Wisconsin are finding that it is less expensive to build new solar and wind energy facilities than it is to keep operating some existing coal power plants. If the cost of solar and wind continue to decline, a transition to 100% clean energy could be an economic boon to customers. Factoring in the environmental and health benefits of clean energy, this is definitely a good direction for Wisconsin.”
“In addition, we know expanding rooftop solar and energy efficiency will help homeowners, businesses, farmers, and local governments transition to clean energy while saving money on their energy bills.
“Achieving this goal can also create thousands of well-paying jobs across Wisconsin. Today, over 76,000 people already work in the clean energy industry, and we can grow jobs in this burgeoning industry.”
On the first day of August, a delegation from RENEW journeyed to the heart of the Driftless Area to take part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by Organic Valley Cooperative. What drew the participants to this location was a newly constructed 2.5 MW solar array perched on a hill overlooking Organic Valley’s distribution center along State Highway 27.
Behind the array stands two large wind turbines that are owned by Organic Valley and Gundersen Health System. Between the wind turbines, the solar array, and a number of other solar systems on the cooperative’s properties, Organic Valley now offsets 100% of its electric energy use with locally sourced renewable energy.
The array in Cashton is also a symbol of a project design that brought to fruition nine other solar arrays in the Upper Midwest serving rural communities. The post below, first published on Rootstock, Organic Valley’s blog, recounts how Organic Valley’s clean energy ambitions served as the catalyst for what is now one of the most creative renewable energy projects now operating in the United States.
How do you improve rural America?
By working together.
Out in the sunlight in 2016, two friends and former coworkers discussed what might be possible if their new employers came together to bring more solar to the Midwest. Could a major food brand become totally renewably powered? It was a dreamer’s conversation. A starshot. Luckily, they also found a way to be doers.
One of the dreamers worked for the cooperative behind Organic Valley, the largest farmer-owned organic cooperative in the country. You probably know Organic Valley from the milk, butter, and eggs in your fridge.
It’s kind of a crazy business.
So these dreamers met over lunch and ended up talking about a crazy goal: to make Organic Valley the world’s first 100% renewable-powered food company in just two years.
If you ask Stanley Minnick, Organic Valley’s energy services and technology manager, even he will tell you he didn’t quite know how to make it happen.
“I didn’t know exactly how it would all work out,” Minnick said, “but I knew if we just kept moving forward — and especially if we had the right partners — we could scale beyond our current wind, solar and geothermal and get to 100% renewable-powered.”
How would they get it done in “flyover country”? How would they focus on this project in a rural America that so many said was crumbling? How could they reach such an audacious goal in so little time?
The answer? Community.
As the goal evolved into a project, more partners — locally and beyond — stepped up to make the dream of a community solar partnership a reality.
Two creative and bold energy companies, OneEnergy Renewables and a group of Midwestern municipal utilities referred to as the Upper Midwest Municipal Energy Group (UMMEG), worked night and day to figure out how to structure the project. They, along with the City of Madison, Dr. Bronner’s and Clif Bar, brought their own intrepid goals to the table. Advocates and scientists at Fresh Energy, the National Renewable Energy Lab, and the Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund were engaged to find even more opportunities to create environmental benefits.
What started as a dream to become a 100% renewably powered food business became a community project that would benefit more than 23,000 rural Midwestern households within the scope of the overarching project. Suddenly, the project went beyond Organic Valley’s offices, warehouse and plants. It meant decades of cheaper energy from renewable sources for tens of thousands of rural Americans.
As the plans expanded, so did the logistics. Between the ten arrays in the full project, the team expected to increase the solar energy produced in Wisconsin by 30%. It was a big goal, and with solar tariffs and the elimination of government tax credits on the horizon, there were no options but to either run full steam at the goal or to stop the projects in their tracks.
They forged ahead. The dreamers turned into full-time doers, along with help from an entire team at Organic Valley, BluEarth Renewables, and even the state’s capitol city of Madison, Wisconsin.
The partners worked hard to figure out the finances, including the power purchase agreements and renewable energy credits, while the communities weathered real and financial storms at the same time. Two back-to-back 500-year floods inundated the communities where these panels would be installed. The rural areas were already seeing the effects of climate change.
In January 2019, some of the hardiest and hard-working people on Earth forged ahead into a brutal winter. They installed hundreds of steel posts and panel supports in frozen ground. Temperatures hit negative 30 degrees two nights in a row, and daytime temps barely got over zero degrees for weeks. Months later, the same crews battled muddy conditions to install the panels, wiring and other equipment needed to bring everything to life.
This community solar project, as a template for more projects around the country, was fighting for a brighter future as the rain fell on their hardhats. Still, the project was on track, if only a little delayed by an angry Mother Nature.
Rural America has an incredible resource many just don’t see: a sense of community that rivals anywhere else in the world.
When you drive through the small town of Viroqua (pop. 4,400), just 15 miles from the solar installation site, you’ll drive past a National Co-op Grocers’ food cooperative with solar panels on its roof, a restaurant that sources almost all of its food from local farms, and a farmers market that blows most bigger cities’ markets out of the water. And the community comes together in times of crisis, like when those 500-year floods ripped through a farmer’s backyard.
As the solar project needed help from partners in the other local communities and from the wider industry, people from different backgrounds stepped up. They started projects of their own, supported by a group of businesses intent on doing good in the world. And it’s working.
On August 1st, 2019, all the solar panels were finally in place and ready to make renewable energy for thousands. You can see the view for itself, nestled beneath the wind turbines in Cashton, Wisconsin, created from yet another powerful local partnership.
Organic Valley is now the biggest food brand to source all of the electricity for its owned facilities from 100% renewable energy. And it happened through partnership and cooperation.
Another Organic Valley employee has dreamed up a new innovative partnership that we can’t wait to share, but we kind of have to. This next big project will require even more collaboration and cooperation, but the end goal will be worth it: food made better. If you join the Organic Valley email list, you’ll be the first to hear about our big goals and new projects.
Rural America has a bright future, and it’s powered by dreamers and doers who work together toward big, crazy goals.
This article was written by Joshua Fairfield and first published on Rootstock, Organic Valley’s blog. You can view the original post HERE.