by David Meyer Wellington Advertiser
While residents in Wellington County are struggling to stave off a number of wind farm projects in their communities, their counterparts in the United States are facing the same battles and arguing with the same tools.
The difference is that here the provincial government has taken away the rights of county and municipal governments to have a say in the process, whereas in the United States, counties still have authority and control over wind farms.
An example of that is Adams County in Illinois, which recently received a report from a real estate appraiser for Adams County. Michael McCann submitted an 82 page report of 21,098 words to county council outlining the difficulties setting setbacks, as well as the loss of property values and possibility of illness that have been associated with wind farms. His report was sworn under oath.
He wrote the county is considering a 1,000 foot residential setback requirement for wind turbines, and certain committee members are contemplating increasing that 1,500 feet. He said wind farms are are intensive, large-scale projects with a decidedly industrial character, and most projects are proposed to “overlay” existing mixed-use residential and agricultural areas in Adams County.
He wrote, “These large scale projects affect thousands of acres, and are far different than ‘typical’ zoning variation or land use approval requests, such as a drive-through lane at a restaurant or bank, or a request to construct a gas station with a car wash. When the prudence of reviewing requests for smaller-scale, single uses is required to insure the new development does not adversely affect neighboring people or land uses, the immense scale and intensity of wind energy project development and operations demands even greater scrutiny and expert evaluation, which is often not financially feasible for smaller, rural counties.”
He said three potential contaminations can have on property are: cost effects, use effects, and risk (stigma) effects – and all three are recognized as being present with wind energy projects.
Cost effects can include neighbouring owner costs to attempt to mitigate against sound intrusion, shadow flicker, medical costs to deal with sleep deprivation related conditions, as well as, in some instances, the cost to rent substitute housing and potential legal costs incurred to protect individual owner’s property rights. For agricultural property, there can be increased costs due to the loss of ability to retain aerial spraying services, which can result in increased cost for ground spraying methods or decreased crop yields.
Use effects include the loss of peaceful use and enjoyment of homesteads for many turbine neighbours, and there is evidence that livestock has been adversely impacted by the noise from turbines, ranging from death (goats in Taiwan) to reproductive disorders (in Wisconsin) and behavioral changes and irritability of horses and cattle. Those may also represent cost effects, in some cases, or other forms of financial impact.
Stigma effects can range from loss of aesthetics, diminished views and character of neighbourhoods, to fear of health issues and noise disturbance, etc. This effect is often manifest in the lack of marketability of homes in the “footprint” and nearby properties most impacted by active turbines, and to varying degrees the known and unknown cost and use effects are also contributing factors to stigma effects.
McCann wrote, “I have also reviewed studies conducted by other appraisers, which yield similar indications of property value impacts. In the Adams County matter, my evaluation of the proposed wind turbine setbacks is conducted from a real estate valuation perspective with a land use impact focus, since every land use has some impact upon neighboring land uses and residents. The impact can be substantially positive, negative, or so minimal as to be immeasurable in terms of property values. As I understand it, governmental policies and land use decisions are intended to prevent “significant” negative impacts on property values and the peaceful use and enjoyment of existing property by area residents.
In his summary, McCann wrote:
– Residential property values are adversely and measurably impacted by close proximity of industrial-scale wind energy turbine projects to the residential properties, with value losses measured up to two-miles from the nearest turbine(s), in some instances.
– Impacts are most pronounced within “footprint” of such projects, and many ground-zero homes have been completely unmarketable, thus depriving many homeowners of reasonable market-based liquidity or pre-existing home equity.
– Noise and sleep disturbance issues are mostly affecting people within two miles of the nearest turbines and one-mile distances are commonplace, with many variables and fluctuating range of results occurring on a household by household basis.
– Real estate sale data typically reveals a range of 25% to approximately 40% of value loss, with some instances of total loss as measured by abandonment and demolition of homes, some bought out by wind energy developers and others exhibiting nearly complete loss of marketability.
– Serious impact to the “use and enjoyment” of many homes is an on-going occurrence, and many people are on record as confirming they have rented other dwellings, either individual families or as a homeowner group-funded mitigation response for use on nights when noise levels are increased well above ambient background noise and render their existing homes untenable.
– Reports often cited by industry in support of claims that there is no property value, noise or health impacts are often mischaracterized, misquoted, or are unreliable. The two most recent reports touted by wind developers and completed in December 2009 contain executive summaries that are so thoroughly cross-contingent that they are better described as “disclaimers” of the studies rather than solid, scientifically supported conclusions. Both reports ignore or fail to study very relevant and observable issues and trends.
– If Adams County approves a setback of 1,000 feet, 1,500 feet, or any distance less than two miles, these types of property use and property value impacts are likely to occur to the detriment of Adams County residences and citizens for which the nearest turbines are proposed to be located.
– The approval of wind energy projects within close proximity to occupied homes is tantamount to an inverse condemnation, or regulatory taking of private property rights, as the noise and impacts are in some respects a physical invasion, an easement in gross over neighbouring properties, and the direct impacts reduce property values and the rights of nearby neighbors.
– A market value reduction of $6.5-million is projected for the residential property located in the footprint and within two miles of the pending Prairie Mills project located in east Adams County.
McCann wrote, “If the county board should choose to adopt the industry requested minimal setbacks, or some other setback of less than two miles from residential uses or occupied dwellings or structures such as schools, churches, and nursing homes, I have developed a series of recommendations that would at least partially mitigate the widely experienced impacts prevalent with industrial scale wind turbines developments, as follows:
- A property value guarantee (PVG) should be required of the developers;
- A county controlled fund or developer bond should be required to guarantee no undue delay in PVG payment(s) to legitimately affected homeowners, and/or to buy out homeowners located within two miles of any turbines if they elect to relocate away from the turbine project(s) and cannot sell for the pre-project market value of their properties. Such a guarantee is nominal in cost, relative to total project costs, and are used to condition high impact land use approvals such as landfills and even limestone quarries, as well as other wind energy developments.
- An alternative to the bonding element of recommendation one would be to require that the developer(s) obtain a specialized insurance policy from a high risk insurance carrier or legitimate insurer, such as Lloyds of London, if they will even insure against such impacts. If Lloyds was unwilling to provide such insurance, however, that should be compelling to the county that professional risk-management actuaries find such projects too risky for even them to insure. Under those possible circumstances the burden of risk is fairly placed with the developer, rather than the residential occupants who are being surrounded or otherwise directly impacted by close proximity of the projects.
- If Adams County decides to permit projects, the limited evidence of impacts beyond a two mile setback would mitigate against the need for a PVG as cited in recommendation one.
- If Adams County decides to permit projects, the county should require developer funding and a plan to constantly monitor not only sound levels in decibels, but also in low frequency noise emissions from the turbines utilizing the best available technology, or at least homeowner reports and logs. There is significant evidence and personal accounts confirming that low frequency sound/noise is “felt” by nearby occupants, and, as I understand it, cannot be measured by decibels as audible noise is typically measured. Disclosure of the owner’s actual experience to prospective buyers is necessary from both an ethical perspective and, I believe potentially under the Illinois Real Property Disclosure Act, as a “known” defect or detrimental condition. Thus, documentation should be created at the cost of the developer(s), to insure that appropriate disclosures can be made to any prospective buyer(s) of homes within the two-mile zone.
- Appropriate devices should be installed at the developers expense at all occupied dwellings and property lines within a two-mile distance of any turbines, and the County should retain the ability to immediately enforce the shut-down of any turbines exceeding a level of 10 decibels or more above ambient background noise levels from any property/home experiencing that exceeded noise level. The proximity of constant or frequent noise sources is an adverse impact to the use and enjoyment of a residential property, and indicates a basis for loss of property value.
- An alternative to that recommendation would be to place a limit on hours of operation, requiring turbines within two miles of any occupied (non-participating) dwelling be shut off during normal sleeping hours (10pm to 7 am).
- If the county finds that the wind energy projects are desirable from a economic development goal or perspective, or for the “public good”, the recommendation is that “footprint” and 2-mile distant neighboring homeowners (measured to lot line from the furthest span of turbine blades) be afforded the opportunity to sell to either the developer or the county, with possible use of eminent domain powers employed by the county, on behalf of and at the expense of the developer(s).
- The financial assurance for decommissioning and reclamation of wind turbine pad sites such as a bonding requirement, is also recommended as a county condition. To demonstrate solvency companies should pay the bond requirements before starting construction. It’s basically insurance in case the company goes bankrupt or otherwise abandons the wind project without taking down the turbines and reclaiming the land. Coal mines, quarries, landfills, and drilling companies have similar bond or financial assurance requirements.
- An aesthetic landscaping requirement for wind project developers to plant mature trees or groves to shield the view between residential properties and turbines. Evergreens planted along property lines or other types of trees strategically planted between residential windows and turbines would partially alleviate aesthetic impacts from turbines.
Finally, McCann suggested, the county should consider a moratorium on wind energy project development until such time as:
- A thorough and complete Wind Energy Ordinance is developed and adopted by the County, which incorporates all the protection and authority of zoning, building and health codes.
- Appropriate conditional or special use standards are developed and adopted, to insure wind developers carry the burden of their for-profit projects rather than the hosting jurisdiction(s) and/or neighbouring property owners.
- The actual experiences of numerous existing turbine neighbours is documented thoroughly by an impartial group of professionals with appropriate qualifications in the various relevant fields of expertise, such as acoustic engineers, medical sciences, valuation professionals.
He added that those recommendations are not intended to be all inclusive or to address all wind energy project issues and impacts. They are intended to address issues that affect the public health, safety and welfare of area residents, as well as their property values.