DANVILLE - An attorney representing Invenergy, the company that owns the California Ridge wind farm, told Vermilion County Board members Tuesday night that two experts are doing a sound study within the wind farm to determine if wind turbines are exceeding state noise pollution limits, and if they are, Invenergy will fix the problem.
"We will do whatever it takes and will pay for it, because it's our problem," said Invenergy attorney Mike Blazer, responding at Tuesday night's county board meeting to a county board member who asked what could be done if the study does determine that noise limits are being exceeded.
Invenergy is doing the noise study within its 134-turbine wind farm that spreads across western Vermilion County into eastern Champaign County, because some residents, who are not leasing their property to Invenergy, have complained to the company and to the county board that noise from the wind turbines if affecting their quality of life, disturbing their sleep at night and causing them health problems.
And some of those residents have been attending monthly county board meetings since the spring, complaining about the turbines and calling on the county board to change its wind turbine ordinance, specifically asking the board to increase the distance a turbine can be built from a primary structure, like a house.
Vermilion County's original setback was 1,000 feet, but the board changed it to 1,200 feet, which is the same setback as Champaign County.
Blazer said Invenergy brought him into the situation in May to address complaints the company was receiving from the Hartke family and Miles family, who both live near wind turbines in the California Ridge wind farm, and both do not lease their property to the wind company. Both families, whose residences are near each other in Hope, are complaining of noise from two specific turbines in the wind farm.
Blazer said the first step was to do a sound study, so he hired an independent acoustic expert, Michael Hankard. Blazer said Hankard does not tailor his findings to clients. But the residents were not comfortable with Hankard and recommended another acoustic expert, Paul Schomer. So, Blazer said, he hired Schomer as well even though it's not normally his approach to go with the expert recommended by a party that's threatening a lawsuit.
Blazer said once the experts were hired, the Hartke family's attorney, Jim Thompson of Rockford, informed Blazer that the acoustic experts would not be allowed on the Hartke property for the sound study, and the Miles family also is not allowing the acoustic experts on their property for the sound study.
Blazer, who told county board members that he can communicate with the Hartkes only through their attorney and communicates with the Miles family through the county's attorney, said the families have now indicated they are not comfortable with Schomer, the expert they recommended.
Ted and Jessica Hartke attended Tuesday night's meeting. When asked by The News-Gazette to respond to Blazer's comments during the meeting, the Hartkes responded only through the following written statement.
"We did not agree to be part of Invenergy's ongoing science experiment. Our children and other children in the wind farm continue to be harmed, while Invenergy refuses to provide any relief."
Blazer told county board members that regardless of the fact that the acoustic experts don't have access to the residents' properties, Invenergy has given him an unlimited budget to proceed with the study using both experts and has been directed to keep them gathering data as long as it takes to get enough to make some conclusions.
Blazer said they have been granted access by landowners who lease their property to Invenergy and live nearby the same two turbines that are the source of complaints from the Hartkes and Miles families and that's where the acoustic experts are gathering their data.
At the beginning of the meeting during public comments, some Illinois residents from outside Vermilion and Champaign counties told board members that wind companies use specific strategies to fake results of wind studies, including doing the studies in months with less wind.
Blazer told board members that the company is not in the business of faking wind studies, and there's no conspiracy and no fudging of data, and the results of the experts' studies will be shared with the county board and others when it's complete.
Blazer said he and everyone else realize that August is not a windy month, but the study was delayed a month trying to negotiate getting onto the residents' properties, and he also did not want to wait until October to start the study, considering the pressure from the residents that something be done about their situation.
Blazer also answered questions of the county board members. Board member Bruce Stark asked Blazer to confirm again that the two families that have been complaining about the noise from the wind turbines are not allowing the acoustic experts onto their properties to do their work. Blazer again confirmed that, and reiterated that it would not keep the company from getting accurate data from other nearby properties.
Board Member Kevin Green asked what the company can do to solve any issues if the study determines there are issues. Blazer responded that the company will do whatever it takes and pay for it. He said in California, for example, it was determined that there was a fundamental flaw in wind turbine generators, so an equipment swap was made. Blazer said he highly doubts that will be the issue here, but that's an example of what's been done in another state.
Green asked if there's a possibility of a complete shutdown of the two turbines. Blazer said that's highly unlikely, because the noise complaints do not convey a problem 24 hours a day seven days a week. Blazer said the turbines could be curtailed, or individually controlled and managed, if it's determined that there's an issue at certain times or in certain conditions.
Blazer said there will be a comprehensive analysis when the sound experts are done, and the company will know exactly what is going on, and if there's a problem created by the company, the company will fix it.