News Story

Lawsuit Alleges Wind Power A Threat To Health And Safety

'We've moved our beds to the basement ... so I can try to sleep'

A group of 17 Northern Michigan residents have filed a lawsuit claiming a new Consumers Energy wind farm has been making people sick.

According to the lawsuit, the $250 million Lake Winds Energy Park wind farm, south of Ludington in Mason County, was built too close to homes. The lawsuit says residents are suffering from dizziness, sleeplessness, headaches and other physical symptoms because of the noise. The 56 turbines (some as far away as a half mile) also are causing vibrations and flickering lights in houses, the lawsuit says. Economic losses are also claimed in the suit.

The lawsuit was filed April 1 in Mason County Circuit Court and claims the plaintiffs will continue to suffer harm, including physical injury, emotional stress and loss of property value if they continue to be exposed to the wind farm's operation. Monetary damages in excess of $25,000 are being sought as well as a court order for Consumers Energy to cease and desist in its activities and put an end to the problems.

Dan Bishop, director of corporate communications for Consumers Energy said the company doesn't usually comment on pending litigation, but said the company has worked to resolve complaints.

Cary Shineldecker is one of the 17 plaintiffs. He and his family have lived in their house 18 years and fully own it. At a local meeting, two months before the lawsuit was filed, he described how the turbines had been disrupting their lives.

"We've now moved our beds to the basement in a storage room," Shineldecker said. "After living in my house for 18 years, [we're sleeping] in a storage room on an air mattress so I can try to sleep . . . so my lovely wife can get up and go and try to teach second graders and be awake in the morning.

"We have been up multiple, multiple nights and cannot sleep," Shineldecker added. "I've missed work because of this. Our health is suffering."

Shineldecker also said at that meeting that four of his wife's teeth were loosened as a result of her clenching her teeth at night while low frequency vibrations from the turbines were shaking her.

Lake Winds Energy Park wind farm started in November, 2012. Shineldecker's description in February was about the initial three months of operation.

Another plaintiff, Mary Nichols, is a member of the Mason County Board of Commissioners and lives near the project. Nichols was a commissioner throughout the turbine project's approval process.

"It's unfortunate that every official charged with approving or disapproving one of these projects hasn't had the experience of living within one or close to one before deciding," Kevon Martis, director of Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition said.

IICC opposes industrial scale wind power, arguing it is a potential health hazard and provides little, if any, benefits to the environment.

Bishop, of Consumers Energy, issued the following statement about the lawsuit.

While in general we do not specifically comment on pending litigation, we make the following observations:

We have worked closely with the Mason County Planning Commission and Zoning Director to try to reasonably address permit and ordinance concerns of residents living within the Lake Winds project area to the fullest practicable extent. We will continue to do so.

While we are meeting our permit requirements, we have already taken steps to address some of these concerns. This includes expansion of the shadow flicker model to account for potential shadow flicker occurrences at a greater distance between the wind turbine and resident. As a result, we are in process of reprogramming our shadow flicker detection system to account for this new model. We expect to have all affected turbines reprogrammed by April 15, 2013.

We have said from the beginning of this process that we will meet or exceed all zoning provisions and other requirements under local, state and federal laws. We believe we are doing so today, and are planning to implement additional measures which we will announce in the near future to further help with working with all residents living within the Lake Winds project area.

In 2008, then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the legislature mandated that 10 percent of the energy generated in Michigan come from alternative energy sources.

Although alternative energy sounded as though it included multiple sources, it largely means wind power. Experts have said no other alternative energy source could generate enough energy to provide a semblance of meeting the 10 percent quota.

The term “semblance” is used because less than one-third of wind power is actually alternative energy. In Michigan, the turbines can only be counted on to turn an average of 30 percent of the time. The other 70 percent of time, they must be backed up by energy generated by fossil fuels.

Because of the 10 percent mandate, utilities like Consumers Energy and DTE Energy  are forced to find land on which to place the wind farms. To accomplish this they have to convince local governments that proposed wind farm projects will be installed in a manner that does not adversely impact residents.

"The mandate forces the utility to basically try to sell local officials on the idea of accepting a wind farm," Martis said. "Local officials, who are rarely up to speed on wind power technology, are in a poor position to question or challenge the utility's claims about the safety and advisability of the project. But where can they turn for unbiased advice? They're not likely to find it at the state level, where the bureaucracy remains saturated with wind power activists and enthusiasts."

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.