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WIND TOWERS: Mixed Opinions

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The growing wind industry pumps millions into rural communities across the state.  The wind turbines stand as tall as the Statue of Liberty.  Some Iowans who live next to them say they don't always make the best neighbors.

“We have wind here all the time,” says Danielle Kohl.

Her family built their house around the same time MidAmerican Energy built its wind farm near Blairsburg.  She and most of her neighbors jumped at the chance to get in on the project.

“It's pretty much a no brainer.  It would be silly not to have one if you were offered to have one,” says Kohl.

Her husband`s family was offered land payments for two turbines.  The tall gleaming white towers don`t bother her a bit.

“Every once in a while you'll hear a whoosh and that's if it's perfectly calm.  It's pretty relaxing.  My husband likes to sit out front and watch them in the evening.”

The scenery outside Kim Wedemeyer’s house north of Adair changed last year.

“They're on north, south, west of us so they're all around us pretty much,” she says.

The massive towers practically sit in her backyard.

“I can live with getting used to seeing them, but the sound is what's really bad,” says Wedemeyer.

On windy days, she compares it to the constant roar of a car or airplane.   Wedemeyer even bought sound-proof windows, but that didn`t block the noise inside her house.

“I definitely given the choice would not want to live next to it.”

You won’t find a bigger fan of wind energy in Iowa than Harold Prior.

“I think they're marvels of modern engineering,” says the founder and Executive Director of the Iowa Wind Energy Association.

“What we see wind energy for Iowa is Iowa's next biggest cash crop,” says Prior.

Right now, about 25% of all power in the state comes from wind.  If it all stayed here, it would keep the lights on at every fourth home or business.

“About 360 average sized homes can be powered for a year with a one megawatt turbine,” he says.

The newer turbines generate anywhere from 1.5 to more than 2.3 megawatts.  Prior says Iowa will double its current production in the next few years.

“Our goal as an association is to have 10,000 megawatts of installed capacity by 2020.”

Last week's announcement by MidAmerican is bringing the state closer to that goal.

“We are going to pursue 1,050 megawatts in addition to the megawatt capacity that we already have in the state.  That could be up to more than 650 new wind turbines in the state depending on how the wind projects map out,” says Tina Potthoff.

The utility hasn`t scoped out an exact location yet.  Wherever the projects end up, MidAmerican intends to be a good neighbor by following all city and county ordinances.

“Ideally what we look at is 500 feet from the road for a wind turbine and roughly 1,000 to 1200 feet from an occupied residence or occupied facility in the area and that's for safety reasons,” she says.

There are millions of reasons why communities want a wind farm.

“Iowa's land owners are receiving anywhere from $6-10,000 a year in lease payments for each turbine that's on their land for each year,” says Prior.

“If we gotta look at them, we might as well get paid for them and it's good money ,” says Reggie Wheatley.

His family has six wind mills.  Each sits on less than an acre near Adair.

“It's farmable land, but it don't take out that much.  You can still farm around them,” says Wheatley.

“I don't have any problems with wind farms, I guess.  I just don't want them on my place,” says Bob Walter.

The third generation farmer can just make out the wind farm from his house in Adams County.  Walter says he would rather harvest more traditional crops and raise livestock.

“I just like the idea of farming out in the open and not having to deal with other obstacles in my fields,” he says.

Most of us will never live next to a wind farm.  But some who welcome the changing landscape of rural Iowa.  Others say it's costing them their way of life.

“You just like the quiet country living and we don't have that anymore,” says Wedemeyer.

MidAmerican's $1.9 billion project still needs the approval of the Iowa Utilities Board.  The company wants to break ground by the end of the year to qualify for the federal wind tax credits which will pay for the projects.