Last year, Boone County was presented with an opportunity to host a renewable and reliable source of power: a wind farm to be located on private properties in the northern part of the county. This project would have provided local jobs and boosted local property tax revenues. However, the proposal got bogged down in the Boone County Planning & Zoning Commission, which became solely focused on issues brought to bear by residents who had factually dubious concerns about wind power.
Some residents feared the turbines would negatively impact their health. However, research by our government’s Department of Energy has shown that wind turbines cause no physical harm. Scientific studies have not found links between infrasound resulting from turbines and human health. Wind technology is improving constantly and turbines are quieter and more efficient than ever. A wind turbine currently makes as much noise as a refrigerator and that’s often covered up by the wind itself. National psychological groups have confirmed any perceived illnesses from wind turbines is psychosomatic, caused by fear of new technology or dislike of wind farms generally and arise as a result of an expectation of experiencing symptoms.
Others feared that the wind farm would cost Boone County additional taxpayer dollars to repair roads damaged by the turbines or in associated construction costs. Yet every major wind developer in this country pays for any repairs to roads caused by moving turbines. Again, in addition to financing the wind farm itself, wind developers pay leases to property owners and substantial property taxes. In the event wind farms are decommissioned, wind farms are dismantled and landowners compensated. Further on the economic front, wind farms also provide several permanent job opportunities, such as technical and maintenance jobs, which are required over the life of the project.
Some opponents believe wind turbines are bad for the environment. But wind turbines must be sited according to federal and state environmental regulations, including those that protect endangered species. Turbines can be sited outside of major migratory pathways to reduce collisions and can use noises to deter bat and birds. The Nature & Biodiversity Conservation Union reports bird collisions are not a problem in 80% to 90% of projects. Ultimately, the environmental impact of a proposed wind farm is substantially less than that of even an existing fossil fuel power plant.
Opponents to the project also raised concerns about the price of wind power itself. While wind is a variable resource, storage technology continues to be refined. Wind power is often providing 50% of the power for areas in Missouri as we speak and will become increasingly reliable as storage technology advances. Even now, wind power is bringing the cost of wholesale power down. When the wholesale cost of power decreases, residential and commercial rates decrease as well.
How? First, let’s point out that most utilities bid on power from regional marketplaces. Anymore, very little power is produced by the utility itself and is generated by third parties. If a utility needs 500 megawatts of power (which can power a large town), various forms of power will present their rate to bidders on this electric market, like a reverse auction. Coal is generally the highest-cost resource among nuclear, wind and solar sources, and the highest-cost resource sets the wholesale power rate. So, if a coal power generator sells a portion of the power needed by the utility at a rate of $150/MW, then that coal ultimately sets the wholesale price.
Ultimately, wind power increases the capacity for renewable resources to meet demand and can lower the wholesale price of power within a market’s territory. Those who complain that wind power relies on federal subsidies fail to realize that every form of energy does as well — including coal.
The proposed wind farm in Boone County — if ever allowed to do so — would empower rural with a source of jobs that require skilled workers and pays well. These even help with funding school districts through increased property tax revenue. It could boost local tax revenue for schools and emergency districts in Missouri. Adding wind power to the local grid can lower electricity costs for rural customers.
It’s normal to have concerns around new technologies and disruptions to life as we know it. But this misinformation being spread out in the community must be addressed. For Boone County, the way forward is renewable. Any other option sets us back.
James Owen and Emily Piontek represent Renew Missouri. Owen is executive director of the organization. All views expressed are their own.