Thomas Karjola doesn’t want a 300-foot windmill looming over the backyard of his new home in Stockton’s Rawhide subdivision.
Karjola and some of his neighbors are worried that Tooele County is rushing to approve a proposed project that will place windmills on the Stockton Bar without considering impacts on health, safety and property values.
Developers of the project counter that recent studies show windmills are safe and a proposed county ordinance will protect citizens.
Energy of Utah, a Sandy-based developer of renewable energy resources, has a plan for the east bench of South Mountain that calls for placing up to 25 windmills, some of which would extend onto Stockton Bar.
That plan was presented to the Tooele County Planning Commission on April 3. The windmills will be between 260 to 325 feet high with turbine blade lengths of 130 to 160 feet.
The distance from the ground of the largest windmill to the tip of the blades at their peak height will be 485 feet.
The Tooele Army Depot windmill, which was erected in 2010 and has quickly become a valley landmark, reaches 355 feet from the ground to the top of its blades at their highest point.
According to Karjola, one of the proposed windmills will sit just 1,500 feet away from the back wall of his home.
Karjola and his wife, Megan Shutts-Karjola, a Tooele physician, have been researching the effects of windmills.
“The research we have found points to serious heath risks of siting windmills this close to homes,” he said.
The Karjolas have gathered 700 pages of information they have collected on adverse effects of windmills to submit to the Tooele County Building and Development Services Department.
Among the negative health effects in the Karjola’s study is the disruption of sleep caused by low frequency noise.
According to Karjola windmill noise causes sleep deprivation, which in itself is detrimental along with exacerbating existing health problems.
Declining property values, ice flying off of blades, noise, and an impacted view also concern him.
“They will devastate the landscape and our house will be unlivable and unsellable,” Karjola said.
Karl Rhoads, who also lives in Rawhide, is concerned about windmills in the neighborhood too.
“It is a very easy Internet search to determine these turbines not only drastically deplete property values, but can also pose very serious health risks to area residents,” he said.
Recent research shows that properly sited windmills are not a health and safety hazard, according to Rocco Vrba, principal partner of Energy of Utah.
Vrba points to a January 2012 study prepared by an independent panel of experts for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that concludes properly sited windmills are not a health risk.
Vrba has been involved with windmill projects in Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Wisconsin and Millard County, Utah.
In most of these locations, ordinances require a 1,000-foot setback from the windmill to occupied buildings, Vrba said.
That distance provides for safety and minimizes other impacts, he added.
The South Mountain project is a little different, Vrba said, than his other projects because the homes at South Mountain are all in one subdivision. In his other projects, Vrba said he dealt with farm homes that had more distance between them.
At South Mountain the windmills will be another 100 feet above homes because of their location on the bar and 70 percent of the time the prevailing winds will carry the noise to the north away from Rawhide, said Vrba.
Research on the impact of windmills on health are contradictory.
An October 2012 study reported in “Noise & Health,” an international journal, concludes that “the adverse event reports of sleep disturbance and ill health by those living close to industrial wind turbines are supported.”
A report prepared in 2011 by the Sierra Club of Canada, states that “after a thorough review of the science we are confident in saying there is no evidence of significant health effects that should prevent the further development and implementation of wind turbines, wind farms and wind energy.”
Contradictory reports on the impact of windmills on property values can also be found.
A 2003 report prepared for the U.S. government states that “there is no support for the claim that wind development will harm property values.”
A 2011 study of over 11,000 property transactions in northern New York found that property values within one mile of a wind mile turbine declined from 22.6 percent to 14.9 percent. That study, done over a nine-year period, was conducted by Clarkson University, a private technological school in Potsdam, N.Y.
Tooele County Building and Development Services staff are currently working on language for a proposed ordinance that will outline the requirements for windmill projects.
Vrba said county staff has been working with him on the ordinance’s language.
Once the draft ordinance is ready, it will be reviewed by the county planning commission in a public meeting. After that the county commission may vote on whether or not to adopt it.
The ordinance approval process will require at least one public hearing. The ordinance is general in nature and applies to any proposed windmill project in the county.
If the county commission approves the windmill ordinance, then Energy of Utah can apply for a conditional use permit for the project.
The conditional use permit application will include information on Energy of Utah’s site specific plan, including a site plan and all information required by the ordinance.
The Tooele County Planning Commission will then review the application and either approve or disapprove the CUP application after a public hearing.
Rhoads is concerned that the property tax revenue the county will reap from the windmill project will outweigh public concern. Each windmill has an estimated value of $3 million,
“I certainly hope the county reviews and fully understands the health and property risks to the residents, and not only looks at financial impact to the county when considering the proposed wind farm project,” he said.
Tooele County Commission Chairman Bruce Clegg said the commission will proceed with caution.
“There is no preconceived approval of the windmill ordinance,” he said. “It is certainly not a done deal, we aren’t rushing this through.”