IDA GROVE, Iowa | Mason and Diane Fleenor's log home in rural Ida County features a wraparound porch that leads to a spacious patio overlooking a pond.

"We built this to entertain when it's nice out," Mason Fleenor said of the patio. "But it's hard when we have 40 (wind turbines) to the east and six to the west."

Part of a 134-turbine wind farm that MidAmerican Energy Co. completed in December, Fleenor said the whirling blades and flashing air traffic warning lights on the tall towers are ruining the beauty and tranquility of their home.

"They are unsightly," the farmer said of the turbines in his backyard. "When I am driving down my lane at night, all I see is blinking red lights. It is just horrible."

"And the sound they make. Every night I lose an hour of sleep from these suckers. My doctor gave me a pill, but it ain't (expletive) helping."

Northwest Iowa, home to strong, sustained gusts of wind, boasts one of the nation's largest clusters of turbines, with MidAmerican alone erecting wind farms in half dozen other area counties over the last two decades. The turbines generate a clean, renewable form of electricity, as well as millions of dollars in revenue for local governments and farmers who lease slivers of land to build the turbines and service roads.

But the sound of the whirling blades and towers that obstruct scenic views are a source of constant irritation for some rural residents. Like the Fleenors, many rural residents don't share in the lease payments. MidAmerican does not require landowners to seek approval from neighbors before leases are signed.

"It's sad a neighbor will do it to you," said Joe Cobb, who puts up with a turbine 1,500 feet from his rural home. "I consider this guy a friend and he didn't even ask or nothing... I live in one of the tallest points in Ida County... Day in and day out all you hear through the house is swoosh, swoosh."

On top of aesthetic and noise issues, Fleenor said he has concerns about flickering shadows and changes in wind chill temperatures from the rotating blades, as well as the death of birds and bats that unwittingly fly into the blades.

Minimal complaints

Adam Jablonski, supervisor of wind generation for MidAmerican Energy Co., said the Des Moines-based utility is aware of the anguish coming from some residents.

"There are a few complaints that come in from new projects, especially. People aren’t used to living around them right away," Jablonski said. "But there are no real serial issues with them. We have over 2,000 of these turbines up across the state and we are in 23 Iowa counties and many have been in since 2004. So if there was a serial issue it would have came to life by now."

Jablonski said once a concern is lodged, the company investigates.

"Sometimes it will be I don’t get as good of TV reception as I once did because of the project. If is a legitimate concern, we will find out a way to solve that problem," he said.

Other rural residents are advocates for wind farms. Two turbines were recently built on Daryl Haack's land south of Primghar, as part of large MidAmerican wind farm in O'Brien County. Before it was dissolved from inactivity, Haack headed the O'Brien County Landowner Wind Association, whose mission was to ensure owners got a fair shake in leases with MidAmerican and other wind developers.  

Since the first O'Brien County turbines began turning two years, Haack said he has heard only a few residents complain about the same woes that are blown from Ida County.

"We've got two of them on our property and the closest one is about a mile away," he said. "In the summertime, we have the door in our bedroom open that goes out to a deck and we sleep with that open, and you can hear a little bit of a sound. It’s not a sound I haven’t heard before and it is not objectionable, it is not a problem in my mind, but I am a mile away."

When asked if the benefits of the turbines outweighs the everyday discomforts, “If you got them on your land, yeah, because the payment is pretty good."

Depending on the size of the turbines, Haack said he receives about $9,000 from the utility for each turbine, the access road and cables that go across his property.

MidAmerican now has two wind farms in O'Brien County covering tens of thousands of acres -- the 502-megawatt Highland project and the 205-megawatt O'Brien Project, with 218 and 104 turbines, respectively. The former is the largest of the utility's 20 wind energy sites.

The 301-megawatt Ida Grove Project is the first in the county, which borders three other counties with MidAmerican turbines -- Buena Vista, Crawford and Sac.

In Ida and O"Brien counties, MidAmerican said 487 landowners signed easements. Statewide, the number totals more than 2,400, with the utility's easement payments totaling tens of millions of dollars, Jablonski said.

In Ida County, the company will make more than $115 million in payments to landowners over the next 30 years, according to the company.

Easement process

After selecting a site for a wind energy project, MidAmerican reaches out to landowners, works to gain approval from the county conservation board, and holds a public informational meeting, Jablonski said.

Fleenor said he and many other area residents arrived at a spring 2016 meeting in Ida County, armed with the same concerns he has today.   

"Ninety percent of the people there were against them," Fleenor said. "We told them all of our facts that we had heard, but they didn't care. They just wanted the money."

Jablonski said MidAmerican has to abide each county's ordinance before a permitting process to construct the turbines. According to Ida County regulations, a turbine must be set back at least 1,250 feet from an occupied dwelling.

The turbines are zoned industrial and the land used for access roads to the base is considered non-croppable agriculture land, Ida County Assessor Joe Cronin said. The company's assets are exempt for the first year but increase five percent every year until peaking at 30 percent taxable value. 

The 134 turbines and a structure MidAmerican owns carries an assessed value of more than $479 million, Cronin said. After the first six years, the county is expected to collect more than $2.6 million in additional revenues per year for the county, school district and other local governmental bodies.

Statewide, counties with MidAmerican wind farms are expected to receive more than $160 million in additional property tax revenues over 30 years, according to the company.

Additionally, the company points out its wind projects have created hundreds of jobs in rural areas that have been hemorrhaging residents in recent decades.

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Crime and general assignment reporter

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