Massive Wind Farm Project Stirring Up Local Resistance


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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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  • MidAmerican Energy plans to build a massive wind farm in Madison County, Iowa.
  • The proposal includes 52 wind turbines standing 490 feet tall. 
  • Concerned over public health and property values, local residents have formed Resident Rights Coalition of Madison County. 

People living in a small Iowa community are pushing back against an energy company’s bid to construct an array of massive wind turbines in their backyard.

MidAmerican Energy — an Iowa-based utility that is making heavy investments in wind energy as it transitions entirely to renewable energy technology — is preparing to build another wind farm. The company wants to assemble 52 turbines that tower a whopping 490 feet. The new wind farm will be built in Madison County, an area about 40 miles south of Des Moines. MidAmerican has estimated that over $50 million in property taxes will be generated by the time the turbines retire — a major selling point proponents have made.

While it has earned the support of some who want the added tax dollars, the proposal has also faced mounting controversy from locals who believe the large turbines will serve as an eyesore and negatively affect property values.

Rachael Terhaar, a spokeswoman for Resident Rights Coalition of Madison County — a group that has formed in opposition to the proposal — told The Daily Caller News Foundation that MidAmerican and county officials continually keep wind projects in Iowa under wraps, leaving residents unaware and uninformed. She also accused the utility of using deceitful practices to win over contracts.

“The things we have discovered about the ways that MidAmerican secures contracts is deceptive and shameful. In numerous cases, they have convinced someone to get in on the ‘deal’ and contract for a turbine because so-and-so neighbor is going to get the money if they don’t get it first,” Terhaar told TheDCNF.

Resident Rights Coalition of Madison County has called on their county government to do five things: Temporarily cease all new wind farm proposals; develop specific zoning ordinances for wind projects; protect the property value of residents; protect residents from turbine noise; and properly explain the need for such a massive wind installation.

“Who can stand against a giant corporation with its marketing schemes? Many other counties AND states give us hope as they have been successful in establishing zoning that takes care of residents, create regulations that account for the dimensions of these machines, and cost-analyze the hardships that do not outweigh the ‘proposed’ advantages,” Terhaar continued. (RELATED: Residents Are Worried A Solar Array Could HURT The Environment)

Residents have been successful at organizing their opposition. A public meeting in April over the proposal lasted over five hours. During a meeting in July, over 15 people spoke in opposition to the project while only one representative from MidAmerican testified on its behalf.

“They heard us, but they ignored us,” Shelley Marsh, another member of the coalition, said to the Des Moines Register. “It was all about money.”

The windmills MidAmerican hopes to build are, objectively, very large. The average height of a wind turbine in the U.S. is 280 feet, according to the Energy Information Administration. The 52 turbines to be built in Madison County will stand 490 feet high.

Overall, the wind industry has a very large presence in The Hawkeye State. About 37 percent of Iowa’s total electricity generation comes from wind — no other state has a bigger share. MidAmerican alone has already erected around 2,200 turbines in 27 different Iowa counties.

Madison County’s five-member Board of Adjustment in July voted in favor of granting MidAmerican a height variance and special-use permit for the wind turbines — marking a big loss for opponents.

Terhaar framed the situation in more dark terms in her statements to TheDCNF.

“Our Board of Adjustment did not HAVE to make this decision. There were options, such as moratorium, wait until zoning ordinances and county comprehensive plan had been updated and the public be able to give input, etc. but the pressure from MidAmerican was apparently too strong,” she said.

“This is a David & Goliath story and MidAmerican has had crews out continuing their preparations all the while.”

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