In the popular imagination, Colorado is associated with the majestic Rocky Mountains and the bustling Mile High City of Denver. But to the east of the storied Front Range there is another Colorado, one dotted with farms, livestock, and – increasingly – wind turbines.
The spread of wind turbines on the gusty plains of northeastern Colorado has sparked a 21st century range war, pitting proponents and opponents of the giant towers with their spinning rotaries in a struggle that deepens as more industrial-scale wind projects are proposed for the rural area.
Some landowners welcome the wind towers on their property, because the machines are a source of income that provides a hedge against volatile prices for agricultural goods. They sign contracts with renewable energy developers for the use of their land, and the tax revenues from those payments to the landowners make their way into county government coffers, making wind power popular with some local officials.
And then there are the downsides to wind power on your back forty, and they are many. Colorado’s Eastern Plains, which border Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming, are home to the state’s largest concentration of turbines, and complaints about them. The tops of turbines are outfitted with blinking lights to warn airplanes at night to keep their distance. One resident of Logan County, who has had turbines on his land for 20 years, likened them to a “psychedelic light show” at night.
A Logan County couple who bought their home in 2008 echoed sentiments expressed by many of their neighbors when they told the Colorado Sun (Oct. 23) about the noise generated by the turbines. Their rural home has gone from being quiet as a mouse to where the whooshing sound of rotating blades is a constant annoyance. In addition to the turbines’ noise, they also cast shadows into the couple’s home.
“Blackout curtains hide the picturesque view and block the flashes of shadow and light early in the morning, when turbine blades pass the sun,” the Colorado Sun noted. “Even when the curtains are closed, the pulses of light leak through.”
The couple, John and Carol Schweiger, don’t have wind turbines on their property, but their lives have been inalterably changed by the 22 wind towers their neighbor has allowed developers to install on his land. Therein lies one of the curses of wind power. People who have no turbines on their property have no real defense against those who do, a problem not limited to eastern Colorado
This has raised property rights questions for which there is no simple answer. An owner of a rural property may say he or she has the right to allow turbines on his or her property. On the other hand, the turbines have a detrimental effect on the property rights of nearby landowners.
“The turbines can also expose deeper disagreements about the future of agricultural communities,” the Sun pointed out. “Some neighbors believe they are anathema to farming and rural life, while others see them as a cash crop that can keep family farms afloat as they face ever-slimmer profit margins.”
Patchwork of Ordinances
Wind turbines, which can soar hundreds of feet into the air, blight what would otherwise be a bucolic countryside and are increasingly seen by many as an eyesore. People complain that the towers, along with industrial-scale solar arrays, lower property values. This has led many local governments to enact ordinances that cover such things as the height of turbines, the number allowed to be installed on a single property, and restrictions on how close turbines can be put up near someone else’s land. The result is a patchwork of regulations that differ widely across neighboring jurisdictions. Nationwide, there are currently over 1,800 such ordinances, with that number expected to rise significantly.
These neighbor-against-neighbor conflicts will only spread and deepen as more developers seek to take advantage of federal subsidies and state mandates that support renewable energy. This year’s Inflation Reduction Act contained another $369 billion in climate and renewable energy spending, which will mean more wind turbines, more solar arrays, more high-voltage transmission lines connecting these facilities to users, and more conflicts.