Are the wind turbines in El Paso County making residents sick?

CALHAN, Colo. — There are hundreds of wind turbines working across Colorado, making our state a leader in the nation’s wind energy industry.

These wind farms generate clean energy for thousands of homes, but for some of the families who live near them, it isn’t all positive. Certain people living by the 145-turbine Golden West NextEra Energy wind farm northeast of Colorado Springs stay the turbines are making them sick.

“It’s just frustrating,” Sandy Wolfe said. “I’m just frustrated.”

Wolfe and her husband, Jeff, moved to Calhan in 1997, thinking they’d be here the rest of their lives.

“I went from ‘Jeff, you’ve put us out into the middle of nowhere’ to ‘oh my gosh, this is my forever home,'” she said.

But that changed in October 2015, when the blades began turning–a decision approved by El Paso County commissioners.

“You should feel it out here when those turbines start turning and it feels like your eyes are going to pop out of your head,” she said.

Now, Wolfe said her family is left dealing with the effects, including anxiety, headaches, nausea, and dizziness, to name a few.

“It’s as if every single cell in my body is crying out, begging for me to get out of here,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe said the negative effects have even forced people to move away.

But are these claims legitimate? Could wind turbines really be making people sick?

We asked Dr. Steven Wenrich at Qwikcare MD Urgent Care.

“There’s a couple of possibilities there,” Wenrich said. “Number one is they may have heard the stories and that wind turbines cause illness and cause anxiety and that in and of itself is going to cause anxiety. But there are other possibilities that nobody really has any answers to. You could have some low-level audio problems with the wind turbine and that could be causing some inner ear problems that causes balance problems that causes anxiety and so on and so forth. But we don’t know.”

There are studies claiming to both prove and disprove these claims, but most medical professionals do not recognize wind turbine illness as a real condition. But Wenrich said it could be something else causing these negative health effects. We asked if he thinks it’s possible that residents are worrying themselves sick.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Absolutely. Happens all the time. Anxiety increases your catecholamines, which are a hormone, essentially, and that affects your GI tract, it affects your cardiovascular system, and it affects your respiratory system.”

It can even weaken you immune system.

But many people in the community haven’t had an issues. In fact, just north of the Wolfes’ property, the Wilson family credits this wind center for saving their farm.

“They originally moved to this property in 1948, my grandpa and my dad,” Richard Wilson said.

Wilson now cares for the land on his own, so the family considered selling parts of the property. Instead, they now receive money from NextEra Energy for allowing the wind turbines to operate on their property.

“It was a great alternative that we could stay here, wouldn’t have to break it up, because there’s some sentimental value too,” Wilson said. “We went and looked at some wind farms, talked to some people, and thought, ‘wow, this is great.’ I had no idea it would be controversial.”

On top of causing illness, some in the community claim the wind turbines also kill livestock and crops. Wolfe said they’ve lost a steer and a newborn bull. But Wilson said he’s never had any issues.

“They lay in the shade of them in the summertime, and we’ve never lost anything,” he said. “And our crops that we raise are the same around the turbines as they are 1,000 feet away.”

NextEra representative Bryan Garner said the farm provides energy for about 62,000 homes in Colorado, Plus, it has create hundreds of jobs.

“This wind farm will generate $40 million in tax payments to local governments, so that’s money that will go to help with schools, roads, essential services,” Garner said. “For landowners who participate in the project, we estimate it will generate another $40 million in payments over the project’s life.”

 

NextEra operates more than 110 wind centers across the U.S. and Canada, including eight here in Colorado. They said they’ve heard complains from other communities regarding negative effects from wind turbines, and said they respond to each complaint in a timely and respectful manner.

The El Paso County commissioners held a meeting in March to address these concerns, and they plan to have another sometime in July.

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