Perry residents might soon see a few 450-foot, utility-scale wind turbines rising on the southeastern outskirts of town, and there is at least an outside chance the company erecting the windmills will also build a turbine factory here.
The deal for the wind towers is far from closed, and the turbine factory is even more remote, but homeowners who stand to find themselves living in the shadow of the king-size pinwheels are already mobilizing in opposition and making their opinions known to city and county authorities.
"We will be leaving the community if we have to live next to a windmill," said Kenneth Beougher, whose acreage on K Avenue lies within a quarter-mile of one of the proposed sites. "A windmill is a machine. It just thumps and thumps and thumps. It’s like having a factory hovering over your home. I just don’t want to have a thing to do with it," he said.
Beougher made his comments at the February 18 public hearing of the Dallas County Planning and Zoning Commission, when some details of the proposed wind-turbine plan were revealed by the project’s developers, Goodwind Energy, a Norwalk subsidiary of a Chinese turbine manufacturer, and Optimum Renewals, a Des Moines firm specializing in prospecting and financing wind-energy projects.
The two developers have joined to form a third company, DeSoto-based Marshall Wind Energy, in order to seek a conditional-use zoning permit for building the towers near Perry. Before the county can consider issuing such a permit, however, it must first pass a zoning ordinance governing utility-scale turbines.
A zoning ordinance for wind energy conversion systems has been part of the Dallas County Code since 2010, but the ordinance governs only small-scale, private wind turbines of the kind owned, for instance, by Van Wall Energy of Perry, which typically stand about 125 feet high and produce enough electricity to be consumed on site.
The much larger, commercial-grade systems will need additional zoning provisions, and these the office of Dallas County Planning and Zoning Director Murray McConnell is now rapidly drafting.
Action on both the new ordinance and the permit was tabled at the February meeting and will be revisited at the next meeting of the zoning commission on March 18, according to McConnell, who told the zoning board he would review model ordinances from elsewhere around Iowa and prepare a draft ordinance for their consideration this month.
In order to take effect, all permits and new or revised zoning ordinances first require review by the zoning commission, which then issues a report with recommendations to the Dallas County Board of Supervisors for a final decision.
Although the wind-farm developers were unable to secure a permit at the February meeting, they did find time to explain their plans to the zoning commissioners and answer some of the objections of their opponents.
The site of the proposed turbines lies just outside—for now—the city limits of Perry, southwest of the Perry Industrial Park and just across K Avenue from the Dallas County Conservation Department’s Forest Park Museum.
Kurtis Sherer, chairman of Goodwind Energy and a partner in Marshall Wind Energy, told the zoning board and others at the February meeting his company has signed lease agreements with several property owners for as many as eight different tower sites.
"I don’t know that all those are going to be used," Sherer said. "That is going to be determined by Alliant Energy. We are doing a study right now to see what the base load, which is Perry, can handle. All that we can produce is for that load. We cannot overproduce, so power does not go onto the grid. It just stays right in Perry."
Technical details of the interconnection with Alliant Energy and terms of the power purchase agreement, like the overall plan itself, are still highly provisional. Regulatory agencies at the federal and state level must also be consulted in preparation for any such deal, Sherer said.
For instance, the Federal Aviation Administration must be assured the turbines will not obstruct flight paths, and the US Army Corps of Engineers must agree the site is geologically and archaeologically permissible for construction, he said. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources must also certify the project poses no unreasonable risk to the natural environment of the area, including its wildlife with their own flight paths.
Sherer claims these hurdles have either been gotten over or are in process.
Andrea Tunink, who lives near the proposed turbine sites with her husband Cory, attended the February zoning hearing and voiced her concerns. "This is renewable energy, and I’m all for that," she said. "From a living standpoint, we would be looking out our kitchen window and seeing a wind turbine. But on the plus side, it’s not a hog confinement. We are not here battling that," she said.
Tunink said she does not see what she and her neighbors stand to gain by the windmills. "I am a little disappointed, I will say, that the City of Perry is not here," she said. "I do wish someone was here to tell us the benefits" of the proposed towers.
Tunink’s acreage abuts the city limits at 16th Street just south of Iowa Highway 141, and she wonders how Perry’s development pattern will affect her property. "I am also a little concerned with what the city has planned for the development of the area in conjunction with the turbines," she said. "I do wish the city was here to help explain a little bit more of this."
"I’m a huge proponent" of development, Tunink said. "We were both born and raised in Perry and are proponents of developing our community. But we live outside the city limits by choice, and I would like to know what the city has planned for developing that area. Are they planning on trying to annex us in? Are they going to annex in where the turbines are going to be located?"
These were questions Sherer and his partners from Optimum Renewables, Karsen Rumpf and John Boorman, could not answer, but Tunink’s hunch about a possible connection between the wind turbines and the annexation of her property by the City of Perry appears to be correct.
The Perry City Council heard a report from City Administrator Butch Niebuhr at its March 3 meeting detailing preliminary talks among various groups concerning possible annexation of land to the south and west of the Perry Industrial Park.
Niebuhr said the affected landowners will probably agree to voluntary annexation by the city, and an agreement is in negotiations between Perry and the Greater Dallas County Economic Development Alliance (GDCEDA) to partner in acquiring site certification for the land adjacent to the Perry Industrial Park. A certified site has earned a form of fast-track pre-approval assuring potential buyers the site is properly annexed, zoned, equipped with utilities and transportation infrastructure and meets other qualifications.
Data centers, manufacturing companies and agribusinesses are especially keen in their use of site selectors now, and some of the economy’s biggest players, such as Google and Facebook, have shown their interest in Iowa wind energy.
"The City will agree with the Alliance to bring the land into the City and change the zoning from agricultural to industrial," Niebuhr said at the March council meeting. "Perry will also work with Perry Industries and Perry Economic Development to try to attract new business investment to the park," he said. Most of the land in question is owned by Midwest Oil Seed Co., a branch of the Stine Seed conglomerate.
As Niebuhr’s comment shows, Perry leaders are a step ahead of the county in making provision for Marshall Wind Energy’s utility-scale wind turbines. On the same February evening when the Dallas County Planning and Zoning Commission was postponing the proposed ordinance change for big turbines, the Perry City Council was approving a resolution revising its own zoning ordinance.
They replaced the 2001 ordinance governing small-scale wind towers with a new law making room for utility-scale wind energy conversion systems on land zoned for agriculture. To speed the process along, Council Member Phil Stone moved to suspend the rules and proceed to the third reading of the resolution, which the council also approved along with the resolution itself.
According to Sherer, he explained his company’s plans to Linda Wunsch, executive director of the Greater Dallas County Economic Development Alliance (GDCEDA), and Butch Niebuhr, Perry city administrator and president of the GDCEDA, and they took to the idea right away.
"They totally understood the benefits," he said, including the possibility of a Perry-based wind turbine assembly plant possibly following in the wake of the towers themselves.
"We are looking for a home in Iowa," said Sherer, whose parent company, the Chinese wind turbine maker NZ Windpower NA, is itself a subsidiary of CSIC, the immense Chinese state-owned shipbuilding and equipment manufacturing conglomerate, one of the 100 largest companies in China.
"We are not going anywhere else," Sherer said. "We are really looking at three and possibly four communities in Iowa, so I don’t want to come and say, Okay, if we put up these turbines, we will have a manufacturing plant in Perry, but there is definitely that possibility."
He said HZ Windpower NA is also looking at sites in Marshalltown, Mason City and Nevada.
The benefits of bringing wind turbines to Perry are real, but neighbors who attended the county zoning hearing saw the costs much more clearly.
"These things kill bald eagles," said Deanna Beougher. "They scatter wildlife. They destroy eco-systems. There is an actual medical condition called wind turbine syndrome. It interrupts your sleep patterns, your heartbeat, your breathing, and it can create anxiety."
Beougher has posted a letter on the National Wind Watch and while some of her claims are disputed, no one argues turbines can kill birds and throw ice.
But wind power has come to Iowa to stay. The state now has about 3,200 utility-scale turbines in operation, supplying nearly 30 percent of Iowa’s electricity needs, and it ranks third in the U.S. for states with the most wind generating capacity, behind Texas and California, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
A complex array of incentives have encouraged the rapid growth of wind energy projects in Iowa over the last decade. There are personal and corporate tax exemptions, production tax credits, property tax and sales tax incentives, loans from the state and grants, loans and rebates from utilities, along with various federal, state and local policies governing licenses, permits, metering and interconnection, with renewable energy certificates and renewable portfolio standards.
The incentives have worked. MidAmerican Energy, for instance, recently signed a $1.9 billion deal with Iowa-based Siemens Energy to build 448 wind turbines. These new windmills will add about 1,050 megawatts of new wind power to the 2,285 megawatts of projects MidAmerican already owns.
If wind energy has seen fast growth in Iowa, its fate for Perry is still up in the air. Many opportunities will arise for public input into annexation and overall economic development plans for the town.