‘We’re just caretakers of the land’

An interview with TCAT's Kathy Harkema

Kathy Harkema, spokesperson for Tama County Against Turbines and Poweshiek County resident, sat down with the News-Chronicle for an interview after last Wednesday’s forum at the Wieting Theater in Toledo. When asked about the future plans for the organization, Harkema said they plan “to continue to educate and inform. We will continue to speak at Board of Supervisors meetings. We’ll hold public events. We want people to understand what’s at stake and we’re providing first-hand experiences. We’re constantly researching and sharing and networking with others all across the U.S. and Canada. Our goal is to make Tama County better by making these ordinances stronger to serve current and future generations.”

Harkema iterates that TCAT supports a diverse portfolio of energy production.

“Wind doesn’t always blow and wind often doesn’t generate at the time of year when we need the most electricity like now in the heat of summer when we’ve all got the air conditioners on,” she said.

She suggested diversifying Tama County’s energy resources with natural gas, coal, and nuclear options.

“It’s realistic because if we want to have electricity 24/7 we’ve got to have a diverse mix, so we need fossil fuels as a part of that. Granted, we can perhaps generate a portion through solar. We see many people that have their own private solar panels. That’s a different thing than taking 400 acres out of production for solar panels,” she said.

When asked about reducing the dependency on energy from sources outside of Tama County, she doubled down on the use of fossil fuels, which are widely seen as one of the major drivers of global climate change. While TCAT stresses the importance of protecting Tama County land from wind turbines, the effects of the energy sources they approve of also come with their own set of concerns.

Harkema explains more revisions TCAT hopes will be applied to the wind ordinance.

“We have also said no shadow flicker at the property line. To have provisions for infrasound. Also to have a public complaint process and public complaint resolution process to make it clear who enforces the ordinance and how,” she said. “We’ve talked about provisions for consequences if a developer doesn’t comply with the ordinance. Having expiration dates on conditional use permits, not being open-ended like they are right now. And we’ve done a comprehensive review of ordinances across Iowa and other states as well.”

TCAT asserts in their meetings that wind turbines are hazardous to local wildlife and land, but when asked about habitat poaching done to create and expand agricultural lands, Harkema said it wasn’t comparable.

“There are far more wildlife that lose their life to wind turbines than just farming in general, specifically birds and bats. Wind turbines are especially dangerous for bats because their lungs literally explode,” she said. “Bald eagles because when they fly, they’re looking down so they can often fly right into the blades. Plus the velocity [of wind turbines] kind of sucks birds in.”

The Department of Natural Resources in Iowa warns the placement of wind turbines not carefully planned in consideration to local wildlife and habitats may result in bird and bat collisions. Excessive mortality rates of hawks, eagles and other birds of prey have resulted in modifications to the design and placement of wind turbines and even periodic shut-downs of large facilities (via Iowa DNR website.) An extensive essay on ‘Wind Energy and Wildlife Resource Management in Iowa’ can be found on the Iowa DNR website for more details.

Some landowning members of TCAT participate in habitat conservation, according to Harkema.

“Several of our members have earned the Iowa Conservation Award. So buffer strips — land use management, protecting the water, providing wildlife habitat. We’ve got some people that have been recognized state-wide as conservation leaders as part of our coalition, including our chairman’s family (Jon Winkelpleck),” she said.

She went on to quote Winkelpleck.

“We’re just caretakers of the land. Our job is to leave it better than what we found it and preserve it for future generations,” she said. “We want to be clear. We are pro-agriculture in this group. Many of us are farmers. We just know we aren’t making any more land so we want to use land responsibly and take as little land out of production.”

A hot topic for younger generations is climate change, and Harkema had this to say to those kids worried about the future of their planet.

“What we would say is this. That plants actually need CO2 to grow and to provide clean air for us. I think it’s important to understand that wind produces the least [energy] at the time when we need it the most. So, if you like your air conditioning in the summer and want to be cool in the summer, you need to have something else to back that up because wind doesn’t generate all the time,” Harkema said. “So there will always be a need for a mix, and I think there’s ways to make emissions cleaner from things like more efficient smoke stacks or types of things…We think it’s important that we have our quality of life here in the rural areas, too.”