WORTHINGTON - When Tom Behrends purchased his farm east of Brewster in 1993, he envisioned peace and solitude on the prairie.
That’s no longer the case.
The serenity Behrends once enjoyed was invaded by steel behemoths, or noise generators as he calls them. They interrupt his view, the “whooshing” of the blades delivers a constant noise and shadow flicker is more than an occasional disruption.
Behrends was serving his country in Iraq when the turbines were permitted. He was told they were going up, but at the time he envisioned the towers would be placed in the middle of the section - not 1,100 feet from his home.
Behrends has complained about the turbines since 2010, more recently writing letters to each commissioner in Jackson and Nobles counties. He’s placed ads in newspapers about the 800-pound gorilla he calls Big Wind. He also took to social media earlier this month to oppose Budweiser’s advocacy for wind energy.
Behrends said he’s lost sleep over the turbines - the noise either wakes him or keeps him from falling asleep - and believes he’s a prisoner in his own home.
“You’re just aggravated by the noise,” he said, and the shadow flicker that’s cast across his home certain times of the year.
“My office is on the east side of my house and when I’m trying to do taxes for the farm, I’ve got this blade flashing across my computer screen,” Behrends said. “I call it torture - it drives you nuts.”
Behrends said standards for wind towers say up to 30 hours of shadow flicker is allowable per year, and that turbine noise up to 50 decibels is OK, but he disagrees.
“There should be none of that,” he said, but he believes money talks, and no one will buck big wind.
“The commissioners, it’s almost like they don’t care about their residents - they need the tax money,” Behrends said.
He has connected with anti-industrial wind energy groups like the Coalition of Rural Property Rights in Iowa and Wind Locked LLC, which has formed in Faribault and Martin counties.
“I didn’t fight for this country to have crap like this go on,” Behrends said. “That’s why I’m fighting this now. All I want is for people not to have to go through what I’ve gone through.”
Desperation and division
Eugene “Pucky” Sandager’s rural Hills farm has been in his family for six generations, but he wishes he could pick up his land and move it across the state line to South Dakota, where wind farms are much more regulated.
“There will not be a windmill put up on any of our land down here; my brothers all agree,” Sandager said.
It has become clear, however, that not all of his neighbors agree.
“Things the way they are with the farm economy, it’s very enticing to sign up,” Sandager said. “Some farmers are desperate.”
An investor in MinWind, a wind energy project built years ago near Beaver Creek, Sandager soured on wind energy after the company went bankrupt. He was among many investors who never saw a dime. MinWind was bought by RES, the same company that now wants to build a 100-megawatt wind farm in Martin and Beaver Creek townships.
Sandager said he is all for the use of renewable energy, but he’ll stick with ethanol and biodiesel - and the antique windmill that efficiently pumps water on his farm. His beef with industrial wind is that he believes the federal tax credit offered for developing wind energy is a scam.
He also believes the ones who will get hurt are the farmers - the landowners who sign contracts for wind turbines to be built on their property.
“When you give them a windmill, you give up rights on that land for the rest of your life,” Sandager said. “They can declare bankruptcy and you’re stuck with a pedestal and windmill that has no value. When you want to spray with an aerial or spray rig, you have to get their permission. If you want to hunt on your ground, you have to get permission. If you want to go four-wheeling on your farm, you have to get permission.”
For signing the contract, Sandager said the farmer is promised 40 years of land lease payments. However, if the company files for bankruptcy, those leases become void and the promised payments end.
“If they file for bankruptcy, they’re no longer going to pay on that lease, but the lease remains intact,” Sandager said. “They still hold the lease and it gets sold to the next company.”
In the scam, Sandager said the federal government wins by appearing to be green, and counties in southwest Minnesota win because they collect a wind energy production tax on every turbine.
Sandager said the problem with the federal incentives paid for wind energy is that the government factored wind turbines at the same longevity as hydroelectric projects or coal generation, when that is far from accurate. After two to five years, Sandager said wind turbines “start going downhill really fast.”
In addition to what he calls the tax credit scam, Sandager has other reasons for not signing a land lease with a developer.
“I don’t want to live by a windmill,” he said. “I don’t know anyone that wants to live by a windmill. The city of Hills does not want windmills in our area. It’s an ugly eyesore.”
He also will not farm land with wind turbines on it, saying the structures not only impede his efficiency to farm but take some of the world’s highest valued farmland out of production.
Sandager said the wind turbines will reduce property values, and the construction and eventual repairs and retrofitting them takes a toll on rural roads. Those costs will burden townships and counties.
“I don’t blame our commissioners - they’re looking at ways to build revenue,” Sandager said. “The state isn’t ponying up with revenues for putting in a mile of tar.”
Second only to farmers, Sandager said counties will also be hurt by industrial wind projects.
“It’s so sad because in the end the farmers are going to get bitten, the county is going to get bitten, and the state - which doesn’t have any skin in the game - it doesn’t matter to them,” Sandager said. “And the federal government doesn’t care.”
Meanwhile, the wind energy developer creates division among residents. Sandager sees it, hears it and feels it from those “desperate for the promise of money.”
“I have neighbors who go to my church who have supposedly signed up,” he said. “You go to church with these people and you have to share the peace. How do I shake hands with a guy who doesn’t care if a windmill is in my backyard, devaluing my property? He thinks this is going to save us, and it’s not.”
Wind farms a ‘no-win’ for rural residents
Dennis Hartman, also of Hills, stands with Sandager in opposition to the RES plans for an industrial wind farm in his neighborhood. His home is within three miles of wind turbines - far enough away that he doesn’t hear them or get shadow flicker. He wants to keep it that way.
RES installed a wind measurement tower last fall within a mile of Hartman’s acreage, and if it erects a turbine there, he’s convinced he will sell his home - likely for a lot less than what he could get if there wasn’t a turbine nearby, he said.
“It’s a no-win for anyone that lives in the county,” said Hartman of wind farms. “It’s a big win for the county commissioners who have all this money to play with.
“If (counties) need more money to keep up the roads, all they’ve got to do is ask,” he said. “People would much rather pony up a little more money than have these big behemoths in their backyard.”
Hartman learned most of what he knows about wind turbines from the book, “Paradise Destroyed, The Destruction of Rural Living by the Wind Energy Scam,” by rural Avon, S.D. farmer Gregg Hubner. He said wind energy companies are scamming Americans.
“They don’t pay for themselves. You and I pay for them,” Hartman said of the tax dollars that fund tax credits for wind energy companies.
Turbines disrupt TV
Connie and Merle Janssen have two wind turbines within a half-mile of their rural Jackson County farm that are part of the six turbine, 13.8-megawatt South Fork Wind Farm, developed by Geronimo Energy and now owned by Aspenall Energies LLC.
Operating since December 2016, the turbines spread shadow flicker on the Janssen home and interfere with both cell phone and television reception. Their TV, which operates through an antenna, broadcasts pixelated pictures and interrupted sound.
“It depends which direction the wind is from,” said Connie. If there’s a northwesterly wind, the signal for channels that come from the west don’t work properly. When the wind is from the northeast, it affects channels they get from the east.
The Janssens brought it to the attention of Aspenall immediately.
“At first they didn’t believe that - they’d never heard of such a thing,” Connie said. But, after trying a new antenna and doing a study, Aspenall has now offered to pay the Janssens. Connie said the agreement is based not on the lifetime loss, but on just five years.
“They think this money will make us whole again,” she said. “It’s just not an adequate amount.
“If what they offer as mitigation is not fair, who do you turn to?” she asked.
They talked to their commissioners, but were told if the wind farm offered mitigation, there was nothing more they could do.
“(Aspenall) has been cordial, it’s just that we can’t come to an agreement,” said Merle. “I can see their point, but it’s not my point.”
“The company said they didn’t want to be thought of in bad terms, and I said I think of them every time I turn on my TV, every time I’m on the cell phone,” Connie added. “We were just fine before they came in and disrupted our lives.”
‘No one wants to live under them’
Verlon Ponto has lived on his family’s rural Sioux Valley farm for 80 years and he doesn’t like that so many productive acres of farmland are being lost to wind turbines and solar panels.
“The biggest thing that gets my goat is it’s a big rip off to the American taxpayers,” Ponto said of wind farms. “The tax credits, they wouldn’t be able to survive without them. But that’s your tax dollars and my tax dollars.”
Earlier this month, Scout Energy invited landowners from four townships in southwest Jackson County to hear more about an 85-turbine project it proposes.
“Clipper couldn’t find enough willing landowners to put turbines up, but that was back when corn was $7,” Ponto said. “Now that prices are down, (developers) are going after them like vultures.”
There will never be a turbine on the Ponto farm, he said.
“Anyone who signs a lease, (the developer) basically owns you,” he said. “I told them to get out of here; I want my view.
“No one wants to live under them,” he said.