Hilltop windmill project in dispute in southern Eau Claire County

FALL CREEK - The area of southern Eau Claire County, the land below Hwy. 12, has many rolling hills which can catch a solid breeze on days when the wind is blowing..

It's this landscape which attracts windmill energy companies, companies like the German-based RWE, eager to invest money to install 500-foot windmills with 30-foot turbines to generate large amounts of wind energy, surplus energy which can be transmitted across the country. It attracts Farmers looking to make money from leasing their land to such windmill projects and earn income from it.

But it is the size of these windmills and the fact they might be located at many different locations in the area has a good number of residents in several townships such as Lincoln and Clear Creek objecting to their potential presence.

Clear Creek residents raised their objections to windmills being located in their township and passed a moratorium against their permitting back in early 2020 and the Town of Lincoln recently did the same at a meeting held May 10 at the town hall just south of Fall Creek.

The differences over the siting of windmills became crystal-clear during a listening session held by the town board of Lincoln where an official with RWE, Eric Crawford, and Kevin Martis, a former town board official in Michigan who has become a leading critic of industrial windmill sites (as opposed to smaller, one-home windmills which can also be found on area farms). Both men took up the bulk of the time as those who attended as questions about these projects.

"Our investment in these projects is over $200 million," Crawford said. "We can only re-coup and profit from this investment if we are able to sell surplus power across the nation-wide electrical grid. But the benefits from these projects to the community are jobs from installation, to maintenance and monitoring and administrative work. The benefits are new and fixed roads which we have to upgrade to bring in the windmills, then benefits are an increased tax base for the community to fund local government and schools and the production of large amounts of clean energy to help this country meet its future carbon emission goals and reduce the carbon footprint."

However, Martis said those benefits do not outweigh the costs. He said that even with 1,500-ft setbacks from residences people on site or neighbors can affected by such windmills in their personal health due to nausea or pain from headaches caused by the shadows, light flickers or noise produced by the turbine. Martis said their are costs from birds being killed by the turbine blades, increased dust and air pollution from the road construction and potential water well damage from the use of deep pile drivers to install the windmills.

"The fact that their agreements prevent the landowners from raising any complaints whatsoever form the affects of the turbine demonstrates clearly that they (RWE) know these turbines can be hazardous," Martis said. "These agreements they sign with landowners basically turn them into tenants."

Martis also pointed out that such windmills can cause drop in property values which also affect the tax base as well although Crawford countered that RWE, in their agreements, do provide assistance to landowners of their windmills if any such drop in property values occur.

Nearly all of the opinion at the informational meeting and the Town of Lincoln meeting was against the windmills and many lawn signs have been put up in the area in opposition to them. Only one person at the town board meeting spoke in favor of such projects if landowners want them to prevent further development along Hwy. 12 and the main north-south highways leading into Eau Claire. No one who has signed a lease agreement with RWE spoke up either although Crawford between 35 to 45 landowners have or are in the process of doing so.

The Town of Lincoln has passed its moritorium to give it time to fashion a town ordinance governing such windmill projects, perhaps modeled after Clear Creek's. Crawford stated that while no legal action is pending at this time it retains the legal options against such ordinances if they make it impossible to conduct business.

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