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Black Hawk County Wind Farm Approved Despite Concerns

Iowa Wind Energy Association

Black Hawk County is moving forward witha plan to build 35 wind turbines, despite concerns from local residents. But an Iowa researcher says the impacts will likely be minimal.

A wind energy developer has won local approval to build 35 turbines in rural southwestern Black Hawk County. Local officials signed off on the plan in a 3 to 2 vote, despite concerns from more than 100 opponents. The potential health impacts of industrial noise, the flickering of the turbine blades, and the loss of farmable land are top of mind for worried residents.

In a post in a Facebook group opposing the development, one resident argued the turbines would fundamentally alter the rural Iowa landscape. The individual wrote his family would even consider selling the farm they've owned for nearly a century, if the wind farm is built.

Larry Oltrogge chairs the county Board of Adjustmentthat approved the Washburn Wind Energy project on Tuesday. He said he listened to the concerns residents raised. But he says the potential economic opportunities shouldn't be passed up. Landowners will be paid to allow the construction on their land.

"I heard those voices, ok?" Oltrogge said. "But I also heard the voices of the 100 plus people who signed for those easements."

Jim McCalley heads the Wind Energy, Science, Engineering and Policy Programat Iowa State University. He says if planned right, there shouldn’t be serious impacts.

“Generally it’s very possible, very easy to set them back away from dwellings, at a level…at a distance that very much minimizes those kind of impacts,” McCalley said.

McCalley says researchers are working to design quieter, more efficient machines. But he says those who don’t like the look of turbines on the landscape are probably out of luck.

David Osterberg is a professor in the University of Iowa College of Public Health. He acknowledges wind farms may not be aesthetically attractive for all Iowans. But he says he can't find empirical evidence that the turbines negatively impact health.

"They might be an annoyance, sure," Osterberg said. "But health? I don't think so."

A 2011 paper published in the journal Environmental Health suggests annoyance with wind turbines may have a greater impact than the actual mechanics of the turbines.

"Self reported health effects like feeling tense, stressed, and irritable, were associated with noise annoyance and not to noise itself," authors Loren Knopper and Christopher Ollson wrote.

But the authors also added more research on the potential impacts of wind turbines "on human health, emotional and physical, is warranted."

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter