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ND Rejects Neighbor Request to Move 4 Disputed Turbines to Beyond Half Mile From His Home

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The North Dakota Public Service Commission declined to intervene in a last-minute request from a Luverne couple who wanted a neighboring wind farm moved from near their property line.  The Jim and Mary Anne Miller build dog sleds and keep 21 huskies for testing them, and were concerned that the 80 turbines planned in an area extending out to a half mile from their home would be disruptive to both the dogs and them. “I think it’s ridiculous that they would force this noise onto us, and we’re supposed to be happy about it,” Mary Ann Miller said in an AP story. The quiet of the rural area “is one of the big assets that we have here,” she said. “We don’t live next to Kmart or Wal-Mart.”  The PSC agreed only to ask the wind farm developer, NextEra Energy Corporation, if it would be practical to move the project to a half to three-quarters of a mile from the Millers, as they had hoped, a move of roughly a quarter mile.  However, construction of four of the turbine foundations has already begun, a NextEra spokesman said determining the placements was a “highly technical exercise” that could not easily be changed. “We think that the array that we’ve laid out is very sound for a number of reasons,” Stengel said. “Once we do that, we don’t think there is any need to move those turbines.”  The project was approved in June. UPDATE: This news report from the week before the hearing says that only the 4 turbines under construction (the closest of which was 1400 feet from a home) were under dispute and being asked to be moved, and that the company apparently began construction with those very four.  “I’m just incredibly frustrated,” said Merrie Helm, one of the neighbors asking for the turbines to be moved to a half mile from homes. “It’s like the small person in North Dakota just doesn’t matter. That’s how it feels.”

This case is one of the first that has revolved around what appears to be a common threshold for noise issues with wind farms, the half mile to mile range.  Though setbacks of a mile or more may still be warranted if the goal is to avoid noise problems altogether, very few serious noise complaints have arisen from wind farms that are three-quarters of a mile or more from homes.  Thus the Millers request, while coming too late for serious consideration, was very reasonable.  A recent report from the UK highlights another perspective on this half-mile issue: the Westmills Wind Farm consists of four turbines, all within a half mile of the village of Watchfield.  However, the project brought 2400 locals into a cooperative which owns 100% of the farm.  This is an example of a growing trend in the UK, by which communities buy into wind farm projects.  In these cases, it may well be that occasional noise issues are more easily accepted, in contrast to projects in which the noise is foisted upon unwilling neighbors.  An important note is that (as usual), news reports on both of these cases neglected to clarify whether the homes a half mile away were upwind or downwind of the wind farm sites, which can make a huge difference as to whether noise issues are likely to crop up.

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