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Area residents asked questions of Invenergy Monday in Farragut

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Invenergy Forum

The Waterfall Venue and Event Center in Farragut hosted an Invenergy wind turbine forum Monday, June 13, to hear about the proposed Shenandoah Hill Wind Project. Pictured is Michael Hankard, an independent acoustic expert, who spoke about the effects of turbine noise.

Citizens from both Page and Fremont counties attended a public presentation by Invenergy and were anxious to ask questions and express concerns about the proposed Shenandoah Hill Wind Project. Invenergy, hailed as the world’s leading privately held sustainable solutions provider, is set to bring over 60 wind turbines into both counties within the next 18 months. Landowners who do not have agreements with the company for wind turbines on their land but are in the footprint of those who do are troubled with potential noise, health concerns and property values, among other aspects of the project.

Mark Crowl, the Iowa development manager for Invenergy, opened the evening welcoming the large crowd and inviting them to ask questions of folks at stations in the back of the room. “During the first 30 minutes tonight I encourage you to get up and move around. Stop by the stations, talk to experts in their field, and get some of your questions answered. That is why we are here today -- to hear people's questions and provide clear, valid answers, and hopefully quell some concerns here. It is one thing to hear it from me as the developer, but it’s another thing to hear it directly from someone who is an expert in their field.”

Crowl’s presentation began with an overview of the company and its track record of success. He addressed Invenergy’s impact, the project overview and ordinance adherence.

“We have a long successful track record here. We get to know the people within the communities, we want to hear all the concerns people have, and make sure every project we do gets a little better each time. The reason I do this job, the one that stands out, is that in 2020 alone, we paid out $258 million in wages, benefits and taxes that go back to the communities where we have projects.”

He went on to give a brief description of the project: “The ‘Shenandoah Hills Wind Energy’ project consists of 61 turbines across both Page and Fremont counties. There are 45,000 acres that have been signed to date, and hundreds of supportive landowners that really want to see the project take the next step.”

“This project is projected to pay $115 million into these local communities over the operating life of the project,” Crowl said. “Of that, nearly $50 million is slated to go to local school districts.”

He added that there will be $3.5 million paid to landowners over the course of the project and that jobs also play an important part.

“There will be over 200 jobs in the counties during the construction phase, shopping and eating in your communities during that time, and at least seven permanent jobs when the turbines are in operation,” he said, adding that Invenergy’s goal is to have the project operational by the end of 2023.

Crowl continued with a brief explanation of setbacks, flicker standard, road use agreement and the decommissioning agreement before turning the presentation over to other speakers.

“The big takeaway is that our project meets or exceeds all ordinance setback requirements that have been set by Page and Fremont county, in every way,” Crowl said.

He stressed that they have applied the more stringent standard of the two counties and that the average non-participating residence setback is approximately 2,200 feet.

Independent acoustic expert, Michael Hankard, spoke to residents’ concerns about the effects the noise of the turbines would have on people long term. Hankard’s entire 30-year career has been dedicated to the measurement, analysis and mitigation of environmental noise with a focus on wind turbine noise in the last decade.

“Just a couple of terminologies for you -- noise is measured in decibels. Humans generally hear frequencies between 20 and 20,000 Hertz, and this is audible noise, expressed using A-weighted decibels (dBA). A-weighting replicates how the human ear is more sensitive to mid and high frequencies than to low frequencies,” Hankard said, as he compared it to striking all keys on a keyboard at the same time.

He shared a graph depicting the dBA of typical A-weighted levels.

“Typically, the standard around the country for turbine noise limits sits between 45 and 55 dBA. These are just numbers to many of you, so to put it in perspective, if you go to a rock concert it is going to be 100 dBA or above, and 85 dBA is what the Occupational, Safety, and Health Administration sets the noise limit at in factories,” he said. “After that you would be required to wear hearing protection. 65 decibels is what highway departments and airports limit as noise level. 55 dBA is the number the EPA came up with years ago as protective of human health.”

He added that when a company like Invenergy comes to him, he sets up a mathematical model and creates noise level prediction models.

“We analyze the turbines they are using and predict noise levels,” Hankard said. “We look at the acoustical design of the turbines and ensure that it meets the limits within and around the project. We make sure all the non-participating residences are outside these noise level zones. And we have done this for this project, and it meets the county’s guidelines.”

Mark Roberts was called up to discuss studies on the effects of health. Roberts spent 17 years as the state epidemiologist in Oklahoma, as well as 18 years as a consultant for Exponent, a multidisciplinary team that performs research and analysis in more than 90 technical disciplines.

“So, how do you evaluate health concerns?” Roberts asked. “When you’re sick, you go see a physician and he or she evaluates you. With wind turbines and health concerns, it doesn’t work that way. We do population-based studies and also study previous research that has been done. Turbines change over time so it is ongoing research. They turn slower, there is a lower level of noise -- it’s a moving target.”

Roberts shared dozens of governmental reviews and explained peer-reviewed papers.

“Experts have found no increased risk of health conditions with exposure to wind turbines,” he said. “There is annoyance, but there are no specific health effects. It’s important to look at the science.”

Roberts also said it is hard to evaluate noise exposure.

“It’s a bias; do you like it or do not like it? That changes opinions,” he said.

He explained that there have been two major studies done, and it was in a lab but it gives us bits of data associated with turbines and noise exposure.

“Their results overlapped. It is clear from their evaluation that there is not any evidence of health effects associated with wind turbines,” Roberts said.

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He also discussed shadow flicker and said the recommended level or limit of exposure to flicker, throughout the world, is 30 hours a year.

“The turbines do run more than that but the sun isn't always shining. The focus on the flicker is photosensitive epilepsy, and the Epilepsy Society is very clear in the UK about the association between turbines, which is very low compared to what would stimulate an over-sensitivity of epilepsy,” he said.

He said that the limit would require at least 10 Hertz and that .75 Hertz would be the maximum speed of turbines.

Neurologist and sleep-medicine specialist, Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogan, talked briefly about two potential health problems, noise and light.

“I don’t have an opinion one way or another whether you should or shouldn’t have wind turbines in your community,” he said. “I love the fact that it is your choice. I am just here to answer questions. I study acoustics and human health sound and how that affects sleep and other parts of human physiology. And, since Dr. Roberts spoke to noise and light, I won’t say much more because I want to get to your questions.

“There is a very wide range of problems that are raised pertaining to turbines such as sleep disruption, cardiovascular conditions, pain syndrome, seizures.” When Ellenbogan first looked at the data and research in 2011 there wasn’t a lot of information.

“But then in 2016 -- the Canadian government put together a study of over 1,200 people, all ages,” he said. “They looked at a variety of health outcomes. There wasn’t a single one showing that turbines caused any of those outcomes.”

He said many times that people are misinterpreting information and are misinformed concerning wind turbines.

“And that is why I am here today,” he said. “Harmful health should not be an issue when making decisions about wind turbines. Please ask your questions after the presentations and let me know what your concerns are.”

Mike MaRous, owner and president of MaRous & Company, founded in 1980, was present to answer questions about the impact turbines have on property value via real estate appraisals. MaRous has appraised more than $15 billion worth of a diverse variety of real estate in more than 30 states.

“We look at the proposed project and the potential impact of property values in a specific area,” he said. “I’ve looked at wind projects in many states, in similar areas. We look at the economics, infrastructure, the stress on the infrastructures and the positive economic benefits or negative economics. We put all our information into a report.”

He shared that his company hasn’t found any negative impact in the Midwest on the value of what he called match-pair sales: “We look at a sale of a property that is approximate to a turbine and a similar property that’s not approximate or in the same area to see if we can find impact based on an ongoing wind farm.”

MaRous said that he has covered many counties in several states concerning the wind projects.

“I call the county assessor or deputy to talk about the wind projects and to ask if there have been tax appeals based on allegations that the properties have been impacted on value. Not one has been given a tax appeal,” he said. He concluded that based on his work, research and the communication with all parties involved, it appears there is no negative economic impact to communities with wind projects.

Next, David Loomis, president of Strategic Economic Research, gave a presentation about jobs and economic development. He has over 20 years of experience in energy analysis and has performed economic development analyses at the county, region, state and national levels for many different energy projects and associated supply chains.

In particular, he has performed economic impact analyses for renewable energy projects.

“The methodology that I use to look at the economic impact was developed the by the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL) that basically looks at wind projects and then says of that, ‘What are the costs, what are the components that come in, what are the different operational expenditures and how will that reverberate over the economy,’” he said. “There are the direct expenditures that we would look at on site, like labor and professional services, whether that be during construction or operation. But there are hidden economic impacts that you may not see such as the supply chain impact and the impact new jobs will make.”

Loomis added that another big component will be the property tax revenues. “There is a provision we estimated, and using this provision, that would phase in property taxes over time,” he said. “The first year is zero and then goes to 5%, 10% and 15% each and every year until year seven, then it remains steady. The annual amount between both counties will be close to $2.9 million, but it's backloaded, the early years are less.”

He explained that the money received by the counties and townships is proportioned to the number of turbines within the taxing body’s jurisdiction.

“For example, area school districts are the largest taxing bodies in this particular project, and Shenandoah Community School District has the most turbines in their area, so they would get the majority of the tax revenue, almost $50 million over the life of the project,” Loomis said.

He also invited those in attendance to ask questions at the end of the presentations.

Crowl summarized the positive outcomes of the wind project and stated that he is happy to be in the area and is excited to get things started. Then he gave time for individuals to ask questions addressed to any or all of the speakers. The largest concerns were about the noise, health issues and setbacks.

One question was about the current setbacks and whether it was to the property line or to the place of residence. When someone asked what would happen if he built a new residence on their own land that no longer met the setback requirement, Crowl indicated that the setback goes to the residence, not the property line, and said that once the project has been started, the setback remains even if a new residence is built on their non-participating land. The setback distance was set at the time the application was filed.

One resident asked, “Where are the landowners that you currently have on other projects? Where’s there testimony? Why aren't they here?” Crowl said he didn’t ask them to be here but they could possibly do that in a future meeting or presentation.

Several people were angry that their questions about raw materials aren’t being answered. Crowl said he wouldn’t know those answers until construction time starts, but the company works on purchasing supplies locally.

Other questions were about the decommissioning of the turbines at the end of the useful life. Crowl said that there are agreements and contracts in place with the counties for this, as well as for road use and repair.

More meetings are being planned for future dates in both counties.

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