Resistance from Columbia County landowners threatens We Energies’ attempt to build 90 turbines for the Glacier Hills Wind Park.
Randolph resident Pete DeBoer, for instance, said the utility offered him $2,000 per year and a $5,000 bonus to a sign a contract waiving his right to sue if the sound from two nearby turbines exceeds 45 decibels after they are built. The utility will install equipment on his house to measure decibels.
“As far as I can tell, if you sign anything with them, they can come and go as they please on your property,” DeBoer said. “It’s about what they want, when they want it and where they want it.
“I told them no, and so far they’ve left me alone but I’ve heard they’re harassing other people.”
We Energies spokesman Barry McNulty said the utility is trying repeatedly to contact property owners, but only because representatives either are calling or arriving at homes to no answer.
“It’s a process,” he said. “Sometimes it can take several months to try to get communication going, but I wouldn’t call it harassment.”
When the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin approved the estimated $434 million Glacier Hills project in January, commissioners required the company build turbines 1,250 feet from properties unless the owners signed waivers allowing smaller setbacks. Commissioners also set a 45-decibel night noise limit.
Brian Manthey, We Energies spokesman, said the utility originally requested 1,000-foot setbacks, so plans for turbine placement are changing. He said company representatives are talking to landowners about waiving the setback and sound requirements.
“We’d like to wrap up this plan by spring and start foundation work in May or June,” Manthey said. “If we have to use 1,250-foot setbacks everywhere, it could knock 15 or 16 turbines out of the project, but we’re still thinking it will be in the 80 to 90 range.”
For each turbine lost, Manthey said, the wind farm loses 563 megawatt hours per year.
But local landowners are not sympathetic. Randolph resident Deb Koopmans said beyond setback and sound waivers, We Energies also wants property easements to connect transmission lines to the turbines.
Koopmans said the utility first contacted her Tuesday about using roughly 3 acres of her property to build a transmission line and told her representatives would set up a meeting to discuss the project and present a contract. She said she called We Energies back Wednesday and left a message that she was not interested and the utility should not send representatives.
“And then Thursday someone showed up with a contract,” Koopmans said. “I wasn’t home, so they gave the contract to my daughter. I’m not going to sign it. I’ll probably just throw it out.”
If landowners do not sign off on waivers or easements, Manthey said, We Energies still will find a way to finish the project. But, he said, there is no justification to local concerns the utility will use eminent domain to take the land.
“We’re not anywhere near that,” he said. “We feel pretty confident about getting the turbines up and getting the contracts we need.”