LOCKWOOD, Mo. — For generations, farmers in rural Dade County have worked the land to make a living.
“We are a strictly crop farm that we raise about half corn around 5,000 acres,” Willie Stefan explained about his farm just east of Golden City.
Now, there’s something else being harvested from mother nature in Dade, Barton, Jasper, and Lawrence counties. Dozens of tall wind turbines now dot the landscape and are visible from miles around.
Stefan said, “I think they look nice in the area and it’s just progress, you know. It is just a change in the times.”
With the flat land and high winds, companies such as Liberty Utilities are building massive wind farms to power our electrical grid. Supporters of wind projects say the turbines create clean, sustainable energy.
Clay Lasater, Superintendent of Lockwood Schools, said, “It has changed the landscape of the area and some of the windmills happen to be in our district and some are not. So, even the ones that are not in our district, it feels like it’s right in our backyard.”
When we visited the tight-knit towns of Lockwood and Golden City, we found two types of people. First are those who support the recently completed Liberty Utilities Kings Point and North Fork Ridge wind farms. The two projects include nearly 140 of these towers as tall as the Gateway Arch. Liberty says its units crank out enough electricity to power close to 100,000 homes.
Stefan said, “I can understand, you know, that there’s pros and cons to everything. But you have to try different things. And I think it’s basically all good.”
While in the towns, we also encountered people who don’t like the turbines. But they don’t want to rock the boat as they have friends or family who have the units on their land.
Those concerned told FOX49 living near the wind project is like being at the airport. Sometimes, when you’re up close, the noise sounds like jets taking off. And, at night, the farm fields look like an airport runway with an endless stream of bright red warning lights blinking in unison.
Shaen Rooney, Project Manager for Liberty Utilities, explained, “Anybody who tells you that there’s an impact-free form of electrical generation isn’t telling you the whole truth. You know, we did use some self-imposed limitations on noise, and shadow flicker is another concern. So, we did use some design standards around that to try and minimize impact. You know, the lighting obviously is an FAA requirement.”
FOX49 Investigates discovered the turbines generate not just electricity, but also money for local governments and school districts.
“We try and be as beneficial as we can to the landowners,” Rooney said. “I know that we provide, you know, supporting payments to the landowners that host our infrastructure and generally we just try and be a good neighbor.”
Stefan added, “Every year you get a nice check from that. And, if you have a bad year farming or something that you don’t have to take all you’re in, you know, all your income doesn’t have to come from the farm to sustain a decent living here in the country.”
While payments vary by location and landowner and are not usually announced, one landowner told us he was approached by one company proposing a new site and offering at least $20,0000 a year per windmill.
“That’s per windmill, per windmill,” said Wayne West. “So, if somebody gets two or three of them, surely, they’ll just go fishing a lot. I don’t, you know.”
Lockwood’s public schools also benefit from property tax revenue generated by the wind farm.
Lasater explained, “So, there are things that we can do with some of those dollars. But the fact that it’s recurring funds each year, you know, that that is nice. It’s not just a one-time thing.”
FOX49 Investigates found property tax revenues are split between the schools in the area. Just thirteen of the wind turbines fall in Lockwood’s district. Those generate around $250,000 per year, which is a lot of money for small districts like Lockwood.
“We kind of got to the point where we felt like we had cut back as much as what we could. We were kind of bare bones. And so, at that point, if you don’t have a major you can cut, you may have to look at tax levy increases. And so, in the short term, I feel like it has kept us from having to have discussion,” Lasater said.
Lockwood resident Erryl Schilling said, “My grandkids are going to school. And I want to see the school. We have a great school system. And I like to keep it that way. Maybe the wind towers or either be extra money or if nothing else, maybe they will not raise our property taxes as much. So, it has its pros and cons.”
Lasater said, “I know that it’s a difficult thing, you know, for people on both sides of it. You know, some people want to see the added revenue source and some people don’t want to see the landscape change. You know, when you’re in a rural farming area and it’s, uh, it’s a drastic change from what we’ve been used to.”
Farmers like Willie believe a future full of wind energy is upon us here the Ozarks.
“I think it’s a new trend, you know, and there will be more. And just as we were saying and my son and I, we both have some land in this new venture, you know, and we’ll definitely put up some if we’re eligible.”