BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
DANVILLE — The spot is, quite literally, in the middle of a corn field off County Road 2150N, west of the Oakwood Junior High School.
On the right is a tall wind turbine; on the left are two more wind turbines. And in the middle is Greg Hansbraugh — disputing complaints against the turbines not with his words, but simply the sound of his voice.
With winds at a little more than 10 mph, the sounds of the wind turbine and its three large rotating blades are barely noticeable in the background as Hansbraugh — wind energy instructor at Danville Area Community College — talks about the turbine.
“If you’re in your home and have your windows open and you live the allotted distance from the turbine, the normal sounds of your refrigerator running or things in your home would be louder than what you would hear from the turbine,” he said.
The Invenergy California Ridge wind farm — which includes 134 turbines, 104 in Vermilion County — officially began operations at the end of December. The wind farm came under fire at a Vermilion County Board committee meeting in February when claims were made of sound and shadow flicker problems.
Standing a little more than 200 feet away, a slight hum is audible from the turbine — a production of either the inner workings of the turbine hub at the top of the tower or the generators at the base. As the wind shifts, Hansbraugh points out a quiet “swoosh” sound is produced each time a blade spins downward.
“At that point, that’s the loudest that turbine is going to be,” he said.
“This is far closer than they’re going to build to any house,” Hansbraugh said. “In Illinois you won’t find a home any closer than where we’re standing right now.”
Currently, the Vermilion County wind ordinance, which was adjusted last year, calls for the turbine towers to be set back 1,200 feet from the primary structure on a property. However, the original ordinance — the one Invenergy applied and received a permit through — allows for turbines to be 1,000 feet from the primary structure on property.
The Invenergy setback is five times the distance Hansbraugh was standing at as he spoke.
“There are some older designs that 10 years ago were maybe a little noisier,” he said. “But it still wouldn’t go over the 40 decibel range. We’d still be able to hold a conversation here, at the base of the tower or even at the top of the tower.”
Forty decibels, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, is comparable to a quiet room or moderate rainfall.
Michael Creech, who lives in the area of Hope in western Vermilion County, spoke at the February committee meeting regarding the effects of noise and shadow flicker at his home.
Creech did not return phone messages left at his residence.
At the meeting, Creech told board members he could hear the sounds of the wind turbines — described as being from some distance away.
Also at that meeting, Pilot Township Road Commissioner Roy Knight said there is a group of people living in the Invenergy LLC wind farm who support the change. Knight also could not be reached for comment.
Kim Cambron and her husband, Darrell, have been opponents of wind turbines in Vermilion County for the last few years. She said people are, overall, unwilling to speak out about the wind turbine issue.
“A lot of times when you have individual families living in these turbine complexes, they have no hope,” she said. “They figure it’s here, there’s nothing I can do and they’re not going to take these things down.”
Cambron said she has been encouraging people to get out and speak about the issue, but contends some are “skittish” about attempting public speaking. In addition, the debate on wind turbines has been polarizing in some aspects.
“This has pitted neighbor against neighbor and family against family,” she said.
The Cambrons have pointed to issues such as noise and shadow flicker —alternating periods of shadow and light caused by the rotation of wind turbine blades during certain times of the day — as reasons to extend the setback distance for the Vermilion County ordinance.
However, an independent panel study prepared in January 2012 for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection indicated limited scientific evidence to indicate health issues as a result of shadow flicker or the noise produced by wind turbines.
Invenergy LLC, when asked to comment on the problems spoken about at the February county board committee meeting, simply offered this statement: “Invenergy is delighted to own and operate the California Ridge wind project, which generates clean, renewable energy in our home state of Illinois,” according to the statement. “We very much appreciate the community support for the facility, and we’re proud to invest economically in the area through tax payments and job creation.”
The statement also indicated the company’s continuing look at expanding the California Ridge project in the future.