Oh, Say What Ain’t So Joe

Public Joe and Private Joe

Mr. Joe Koppeis, in his various pronouncements on the merits, arguments for, and business innovations with his Monroe County wind factory proposal, has demonstrated some conflicted incongruities. There seems to be a public Joe and a private Joe.

In Koppeis’ public presentation at the Monroe County Commissioners-hosted meeting on August 20, 2018 he stated that he has been “open and honest, with no secrets, in the facts of his proposal.” He also stated: “I have been very open throughout this process, and that there have been no secret meetings or hidden agendas.”

But, Joe’s draft contractual lease, presented to potential landowners recruited to allow wind factory towers and facilities erected on their properties, demands that “lessors shall not disclose any terms or conditions of the lease to any third-party, including heirs, other than legal and financial advisors, without my written legal consent.” No secrets, eh? Maybe not with your attorney and accountant, but certainly secret from your heirs and even your clergyman or doctor, unless you get a permit slip from Joe.

Again, at the August 20th Commissioners’ meeting, Joe trumpeted the earlier success of a 2010 bus field trip he hosted for Monroe County officials to Hoosier Wind Farm in Benton County, Indiana, and how informative and educational it was for all, demonstrating the benefits of wind energy for rural areas. But what he didn’t say was that the 8,800 residents of Benton County live amid vast stretches of corn and soybean fields, with very little development other than wind factories. He also didn’t note that the county stiffened their wind tower setback requirements in 2009, shortly after the advent of wind factories.

Technological "Fixes" and "Trust Me"

When asked by a Valmeyer resident at the August 20th meeting about shadow flicker and mechanical noise generated by wind towers, Joe and his investment partner, Garth Klimchuck, downplayed their effects and stated “more modern wind tower technology has mitigated most of those problems.” But, Joe’s lease for landowners stipulates that landowner-lessors “waive rights for self, heirs and successors to object or make claims against noise, audio, flicker, view, light, interference, vibration, ice or debris falling” because of the wind turbines or facilities. And, landowner-lessors (not to mention their neighbors, who don't get a say) may have their own technological glitches due to the wind energy generation system causing electromagnetic interference for radio, television, wireless 'phone or communications. But, again, the landowner-lessor agrees not to object in a legal proceeding of any kind in exchange for a promise that Joe will reasonably make it better.

This waiver of rights -- including for one's heirs -- is all too common in leases offered by wind developers. Coupled with the also common non-disclosure / confidentiality agreement, landowner-lessors have little choice but to remain silent, as noted recently by an Anderson County, Kansas, blogger and local news publisher.

Facing questions about public concerns over construction in difficult karst terrain at the August Courthouse meeting, Joe said, “we won’t build in karst areas, over caves and voids, and only on strong, 30-foot soil overbearing areas.” But, that leaves Joe very little running room in the sinkhole-pocked project area, 'cause it's Pretty Much All Karst.

In a late October 2018 interview with St. Louis Fox2 News Now, Joe disputed reports that the wind factory would go across 15,000 acres, and said that "it will be much smaller, less than 100 acres total with the turbines on about 10 acres." One but is insufficient here. But, the turbines need lots of free air flow to operate since each turbine creates efficiency-reducing turbulence behind and around it. One rule of thumb estimate for spacing is a minimum of 7 to 9 times the rotor diameter; Joe's preferred Senvion 4X model has a 485-foot rotor diameter, which results in 3,398 up to 4,365 feet of spacing -- or about 3/4 to 9/10 of a mile for each turbine. The National Renewable Energy Lab studied efficient turbine operations and found that, on average, turbine spacing requires about 2/10 of a square mile -- 128 acres -- for efficient wind gathering. And, but, he is seeking leases on entire farm and land tracts -- totaling hundreds of acres -- from area landowners. And, but, Joe’s lease to landowners requires 60-feet wide service roads to each tower, with Joe allowed to make them wider as necessary. A one-mile long, sixty feet wide service road takes up 7 1/3 acres and 20 miles of road is 150 acres or so. It's no wonder Joe's consultation request to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources included 15,000 acres spread along a swath of land from Valmeyer to Fults.

Joe’s proposed lease to landowners mandates that he gets to pick tower and service road locations on their farms and can later force them to allow construction of sub-stations on their ground. We bet you Joe picks the nice, flat, productive ridgetops, and the landowners get the teeth-busting, heavily eroded, sloping hillsides. And, stricter-still, Joe’s lease stipulates that his lease for roads and sub-stations survive and remain in effect even if the towers are decommissioned.

Lots of CYA*

Joe’s lease for landowners contains some additional CYA* profit-centered baubles for himself and Southern Illinois Wind LLC: Monroe County current ordinance setback requirements are carefully detailed. Joe’s turbines can be 750-feet from a neighboring property boundary, 660-feet from a public road, and his sub-stations can be 50-feet from a neighboring boundary. But if the lessor-landowner wants to add a new structure it cannot be closer to a tower that 20 times its height. If the project is decommissioned and towers and facilities are removed, Joe isn’t required to remove service roads or buried cables. The landowner-lessor must agree that if land use issues or conflicts arise, Joe gets to make the decision and priority. Finally, the lessor may not participate in any judicial proceeding involving shadow flicker, turbine machine interference or noise, or any other “third-party” claims.

Also bear in mind, not only do these agreements run with the land if sold, conversely the rights that this project seeks to secure for its present developers transfer to whomever Joe and associates wish to sell the project to at a later date.

In a December 2018 interview with the Belleville News-Democrat, Joe said, "Right now, I think people are making assumptions that the data is not backing up." No buts about that: public Joe ain't saying what private Joe is doing.

* “Cover Your Ass,” best defined by The New York Times’ language expert William Safire, refers to “the bureaucratic technique of averting future accusations of policy error or wrongdoing by deflecting responsibility in advance.”

Koppeis also testified at the August meeting that “The schools (Waterloo and Valmeyer) have expressed support for our concept of a wind farm.” The Monroe County Independent fact-checked that statement and, in their August 29th edition reported that “School officials quickly denied that claim. The superintendents in Waterloo and Valmeyer both adamantly deny they have ever expressed any support for this development. Waterloo Superintendent Brian Charron stated that the school board has not weighed in on the matter at all. Valmeyer Superintendent Eric Frankford concurred, stating VCUSD has not voiced any such opinion on the matter. “We are here to educate students,” said Frankford. “We do not take sides on any political issue.” Valmeyer School Board President Zoe Ann Schwarze stated the issue was only briefly brought up at their July board meeting. “At that time, we did not take a stance on the issue,” she said.

A resident asked Joe at the courthouse meeting if the wind towers would be depreciated for tax purposes, thus influencing school revenue. Joe responded that “there is no depreciation and I doubt taxes will ever go down.” But, the truth is that a 2007 Illinois law – not a county assessor – regulates property taxes on wind energy systems. 35 ILCS 200/10-600 et seq. mandates a steep, 4% per year depreciation schedule for wind systems and school windfall revenues will quickly decline.

When asked about further job layoffs at the Baldwin Power Plant because of his wind factory, Joe simply said “we’ll generate the power Baldwin can’t” and his partner Garth Klimchuck said “we cannot employ people from Baldwin.” But, wind energy can indeed put Baldwin’s employee force at risk.

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