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New rebellion against wind energy stalls or stops projects

GLENVILLE, Minn. (AP) — Wind turbines have become as commonplace in parts of the rural Midwest as tree-sheltered farmhouses, gray-metal grain bins and deeply furrowed fields. The slowly spinning blades are a sign of investment in a region that often has few growth opportunities to brag about.

But when a developer sought to put up dozens more of the 400-foot towers in southern Minnesota, hundreds of people in the heart of wind country didn’t celebrate. They fought back, going door-to-door to alert neighbors and circulating petitions to try to kill the project. They packed county board meetings, hired a lawyer and pleaded their case before state commissions.

“I’ve had more neighbors in my living room in the last six months than in all the years we’ve lived here,” said Dorenne Hansen, a leader in the effort whose family has farmed in the area for more than a century.

The criticism has worked so far, stalling the development. Although opposition to wind power is nothing new, the residents of Freeborn County are part of a newly invigorated rebellion against the tall turbines. These energized opponents have given fresh momentum to a host of anti-wind ideas and successfully halted projects across the country.

Some wind developments are still moving ahead, especially in sparsely populated areas, but the success of opposition groups shows that when residents put up organized opposition, they often win.

Wind power remains broadly popular, drawing support from environmentalists who worry about global warming, landowners who welcome a new stream of steady income and local governments seeking more tax revenue. For supporters, wind seems to offer something for everyone: carbon-free electricity, construction and maintenance jobs, and competitive utility rates.

Those factors have fueled incredible growth in the industry, which the American Wind Energy Association says operates more than 54,000 turbines in 41 states, Guam and Puerto Rico. The amount of electricity generated by wind has grown more than fivefold from a decade ago.

Much of the opposition is centered in the Midwest, which has the nation’s greatest concentration of turbines. Opponents have banded together to block wind projects in at least half a dozen states, including Nebraska, South Dakota, Indiana and Michigan. Disputes are still being waged in Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Maryland. Intense opposition also exists in parts of the Northeast, including Maine, New York and Vermont.

For many critics, their opposition starts with a simple disdain for the metal towers that support blades half the length of a football field. They want the views from their kitchen window or deck to be of farmland or hills, not giant wind-harnessing machinery.

Others cite grievances that have long circulated on the internet from people living near the towers. They claim the turbines make them dizzy, irritable and unable to sleep. The whooshing noise and vibration from the blades, they say, force them to close windows and blinds and use white noise to mask the mechanical sounds.

Still other homeowners fear for their property values, as fewer people will want to buy a home overlooking a wind farm.

The wind industry says there are no independent studies proving the turbines cause health problems. And in many cases, they argue, wind farms boost property values because developers pay to upgrade surrounding roads, and tax revenue generated by the industry offsets property taxes for homeowners.

Some wind supporters believe fossil-fuel industries help fund organizations that oppose wind developments. Studies and claims by those groups then can motivate grassroots groups, said David Anderson, a policy manager with the New Hampshire-based Energy and Policy Institute, which supports renewable energy options.

Dan Litchfield, a senior manager at Invenergy, one of the world’s largest wind-energy developers, blames much of the opposition on misinformation but acknowledges some resistance persists even when neighbors are provided with full details.

“A lot of people tell me they like the look of wind turbines,” he added. “They find them graceful.”

That wasn’t the view in Lincoln County, South Dakota, where residents successfully urged officials to block a proposed 150-turbine development. When the wind power company collected signatures and put the matter on the ballot, opponents easily prevailed in the vote.

Other than people who would earn money from leasing their land for the turbines, nearly everyone opposed the plan, said David Brouwer, who has lived for nearly 30 years outside Sioux Falls.

It’s been nearly seven months since the vote that decided the matter, and hard feelings still linger among those on opposing sides of the issue, he said.

“The reality is, it breaks the community up,” Brouwer said. “There are people who were lifelong friends, and they see each other in church and won’t even talk to each other again.”

In Maine, plans to erect turbines atop ridges have outraged people worried about marring the rugged landscape and hurting tourism. The group Friends of Maine’s Mountains has been fighting wind-energy developments in the state Legislature, before regulatory panels and in the courts. It has managed to slow or stop nearly all of the proposals.

Group spokesman Christopher O’Neil said he knows wind farms remain popular with many people in distant, more populated areas near Portland or elsewhere in New England.

“Lots of folks in Portland in their BMWs and fine dining restaurants are OK knowing those country bumpkins are getting those wonderful wind turbines so we can have a clean, green conscience,” O’Neil said.

Tim Hemphill, who grows corn and soybeans on 160 acres in northwest Iowa, appreciates the nearly $30,000 he earns annually from two turbines on his land, especially when crop prices are low. He used to live near the towers until he began turning more farming duties over to his son.

“I wish I had a dozen more. I’d take all I could get,” he said. “I just don’t understand the reasons people oppose them.”

The opposition also frustrates Gregg Townsend, the auditor in Tipton County, Indiana, who said activists would “gin up anger and frustration” in many counties. He blames them for stopping wind projects in Tipton and at least six other Indiana counties.

“They’ll buy matching T-shirts and organize a group, then flash mob the commissions or zoning boards of appeals,” Townsend said.

Local officials become intimidated and end up rejecting projects despite the desperate need for tax revenue, he said.

Heidi Gaston, an obstetrics doctor and one of Dorenne Hansen’s children, built a wrap-around porch specifically to enjoy the view and the silence of southern Minnesota. She and her husband can’t imagine staying in their home if seven turbines are erected within a mile.

Neighbors will take their objections to the state Public Utilities Commission this month. They expect a decision by spring.

“We moved here hoping for a peaceful country setting,” Gaston said. “And that’s certainly not what we’d have.”

House takes aim at skimmers

DES MOINES — To deal with a five-fold increase in cases of skimming devices placed on ATMs and fuel pumps to steal credit card information, the Iowa House has approved language to make it easier to prosecute those crimes.

House File 2199 was approved 97-0 Tuesday to clarify language bill manager Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Bondurant, said made it “nearly impossible to prosecute the last 32 charges of fraudulent skimmers in the past decade.”

Skimmers are scanning devices attached to payment terminals to harvest data from every card swiped. The information, whether manually removed from the ATM or fuel pump or retrieved though a Bluetooth connection, can be used to clone the card or break into bank accounts.

And Cedar Valley law enforcement officers are no strangers to the devices.

In August 2017, armored car guards found a skimmer on Veridian Credit Union ATM at 1515 E. San Marnan Drive. Authorities said it only had been in place for about an hour and doubt any information was compromised because it was discovered before the person who placed it could retrieve it.

Residents reported suspicious activity on their credit cards in November 2016, and police traced it to two skimmers that had been placed on Farmers State Bank ATMs in Waterloo and Cedar Falls.

Waverly police arrested three people who used skimmed credit card information to purchase gift cards at Wal-Mart in February 2017. Authorities said the three — who were indicted on federal charges — had used cloned cards throughout Iowa. One of the three had been tied to a skimmer discovered on a gas pump at a Wisconsin convenience store in November 2016.

Use of skimmers in Iowa has exploded in recent years, Nunn said. The 32 charges filed have resulted in seven convictions. He called it unacceptable that “criminals are more effective using the technology than our attempts to safeguard it.”

The full extent of skimming is not known because it is reported to local authorities and there is no central tracking, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores. The association estimates 37 million Americans refuel each day with 29 million paying with a credit or debit card. A single compromised pump can capture data from as many as 100 cards a day.

During the first six months of 2017, the number of compromised fuel pumps and ATMs jumped more than 20 percent from the same period a year earlier, according to FICO, an analytics software company. That comes on the heels of a 30 percent increase in compromised devices from 2015 to 2016, and a 70 percent increase in compromised cards during the same time periods, FICO reported.

The bill, similar to similar to Senate Study Bill 3024, was supported by convenience stores, bankers, business groups and county attorneys. No lobbyists were registered in opposition.

Rookie Waverly-Shell Rock robotics team among those heading to state competition

WAVERLY — The Wave Droids have been spreading the word about robotics.

That was key to the rookie Waverly-Shell Rock High School team advancing to the FIRST Tech Challenge Iowa Championship Friday and Saturday in Coralville. Eight of the 48 teams at the competition are from Northeast Iowa. The event is taking place at the Marriott Hotel & Conference Center.

The 13 freshmen through juniors who make up the Wave Droids, also known as Team 13206, put a lot of effort into community outreach this school year after forming last summer.

Junior Sam Potter said that included showcases of the robot they built for a 4-H club, service organizations, and the middle and high schools. Members also did 4-H and elementary school STEM camps and mentored FIRST Lego League teams. FIRST — or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — is an international organization that sponsors a number of robotics programs.

Judges at the super qualifier meet earlier this month were apparently impressed, since the team walked away with the first place Motivate award. Teams who work to promote FIRST across their school and community are candidates for the award.

In addition, the Wave Droids did a lot of fundraising to pay for robot components and materials needed for their outreach.

“It’s been a pretty big undertaking,” said Potter. But it has expanded his horizons. “I’ve got to do stuff I would’ve never thought I could do,” including a radio interview about the Wave Droids’ season.

FIRST Tech Challenge teams build robots on an 18-inch square base and compete on a 12-foot by 12-foot field. This year’s game is called “Relic Recovery.” Teams operate the robots, which gather and place objects like foam cubes and plastic balls to score points during 2-1/2 minute matches.

In preparation for the championship, Potter said students have been fixing problems with the robot and working on mechanisms for scoring points. They are also updating the engineering notebook, which is a record of their work throughout the season, and polishing up their presentation.

Students are coached by Leslie Potter, Sam’s mom, and another parent, Eric Haaland, and also work with five mentors, most of whom have engineering backgrounds.

“It’s been such an interesting season since we started new last fall,” said Leslie Potter. “We have learned a lot very quickly.”

She has been pleasantly surprised to see how the students have coalesced as a team.

“I don’t think I have ever seen 13 people get along this long so well,” she said, noting their pragmatic approach to accomplishing tasks. “They are not thwarted at all by setbacks.”

Leslie Potter said the students have made many strides in developing technical and speaking skills — which are important for their presentation before judges.

“The student who didn’t want to get up and talk can now do it,” she said, for example.

Haaland said FIRST “really promotes teaching the community and other students about STEM,” or science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “It gives them some actual hands-on experiences.”

Cedar Valley Honor Flight will fly again in 2018

WATERLOO — You might say Cedar Valley Honor Flight is going “24/7” in 2018.

It’s the seventh year the organization has sponsored trips for military veterans to see Washington, D.C., memorials honoring them.

“By the end of this year, we’ll have done 24 flights,” said Frank Magsamen, Cedar Valley Honor Flight co-organizer and Black Hawk County supervisor.

Flights are planned May 22, Sept. 25 and Oct. 23 from the Waterloo Regional Airport. They’re not cheap.

“It takes nearly $900 a day to do these” over the course of a year, Magsamen said.

“When we book three flights, it costs $300,000. We have to take in gifts to cover that cost,” Magsamen said.

Honor Flight volunteers are confident money will be raised.

“We’re not going to book the flights without the assurance we’ll have funding for them,” Magsamen said.

The one-day trips include visits to the national World War II, Korea and Vietnam memorials as well as Arlington National Cemetery and other stops. Flights are open to veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War from the late 1940s through the mid-1970s. Veterans from Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Grundy and the northern half of Tama counties are eligible for the Waterloo flights. There are other Honor Flight hubs elsewhere in the state, including Cedar Rapids.

About 180 people have signed up for this year’s flights out of Waterloo. There is still room on the third trip. Applications are available at Hy-Vee stores or can be printed out from the Cedar Valley Honor Flight webpage online. Information on how to donate also is available at that website, The organization also has a Facebook page.

The local Honor Flight’s annual Variety Show fundraiser is scheduled April 14 at Electric Park Ballroom.