Julie Kuntz is a “fifth-generation Iowa farm girl” who has become one of the most vocal opponents of wind-energy development in her home state. In this episode, Kuntz, a member of Concerned Residents of Worth and Winnebago Counties, Iowa, who lives in Grafton, talks about the lawsuit that Chicago-based Invenergy filed against Worth County, the company’s “nefarious tactics,” the media’s “horrid” coverage of the land-use conflicts around renewables, and why “an informed citizen is the wind industry’s worst nightmare.” (Recorded with June 3, 2022).
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I'm Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics and I'm pleased to welcome my guest, Julie Koontz. She is a native of Worth County, Iowa and she is a member of concerned residents of worth and Winnebago counties. Julie, welcome to the power hungry podcast.
Julie Kuntz 0:24
Thank you very much, Robert.
Robert Bryce 0:25
So I want you that guests introduce themselves on this podcast. So I've given a slight bit of information about you. But if you don't mind if you arrive somewhere and you have about a minute or so to introduce yourself, please go ahead.
Julie Kuntz 0:37
Right as an avid listener to the podcast, I was prepared for this. So, you know, I listened to the, to the podcast and what can I say I'm not an author. I'm not the director of anything. But what I am is I'm a very proud fifth generation Iowa farm girl. My roots run deep here. In fact, my great great grandfather was the first to strike a claim in Union Township Worth County, Iowa. My sister and I now own the family farm that's been in our family for 111 years. I guess you could say, Robert, I'm kind of like the boots on the ground. I'm the I'm part of the grassroots organization that's working diligently here to to stop the onslaught of industrial wind over our rural communities. We do that by a lot of ways. We write letters, we make brochures, we go to supervisors meetings, we traveled down to Des Moines. I've been involved with this since 2018. It was at that time that I happened upon Invenergy at my 85 year old mother in law's house with contract in hand. My husband and I farm near Grafton. Grafton is located in North County, Iowa, as you said, very small, rural community. We're in the north central part of the state, we actually border Minnesota. I was also mentioned, I'm a pharmacist by occupation, graduate of the University of Iowa. And I say that because I think my scientific background enables me to analyze data, analyze, study, design, and better understand the inherent problems, physical physics problems associated with wind and solar, the intermittent diffuse energy source that they are, well that's what I got for ya.
Robert Bryce 2:29
Thanks. And before we started recording, you said you were nervous and please don't be we're just chatting here and I, as I told you before we started recording I only have people on the podcast who I think are interesting, you know, they have a big following on Twitter, whatever, they're famous, that's fine. But we met in Albert Lea Minnesota last August you came up to Albert Lee when I was presenting my my report, not in our backyard, which I wrote for the center of the American experiment and you were gracious enough to come up with a friend of yours and we met there and talked.
Julie Kuntz 3:01
You come from Missouri to hear you speak there.
Robert Bryce 3:05
That's right. The who what were their names? Oh, I know their name. Carrie March, Carrie, Carrie Carrie March and Nicola blessing. Yes. That was that was very flattering. They came all the way from wasn't Keene County. I know, they're in North Central or northern Missouri. But nevertheless, you mentioned Invenergy. And this is one of the main reasons why I wanted to have you on now is that you emailed me a few days ago pointing out that it was on March or rather on May 13, that worth that a subsidiary of Invenergy called worthwhile wind sued Worth County, Iowa, the Worth County Board of Supervisors and in a petition for declaratory judgment. And that caught my attention because as you know, I've been documenting this, this, this regulatory this effort by big wind and big solar companies to put more wind and solar in rural communities and the backlash that it's engendered. Tell me about that moment, though, in in 2018, where you first encountered Invenergy on your your family's farm and tried to get your folks to sign on to a lease agreement. Was that what they were doing?
Julie Kuntz 4:16
Right? Um, so that's kind of that's how Invenergy works. That is the company that I'm most familiar with. I can't speak to how other wind companies work, but they they have very much what I call stealth tactics. They focus mainly on absentee landowners, older, bigger landowners. So yes. I didn't know much about it. To be truthful, although it was shocking to find someone at my mother in law's she lives in the city. She lives in Mason City to find them at her home, you know, visiting with her. That's concerning, and we of course have a huge, older pop Ulation in Iowa, and I find it very concerning that they, they would focus on them before having any public meetings. In fact, Invenergy never has a public meeting. They like to do everything. Person to person and very privately, and I find that very concerning. So, yes, I came there and Invenergy was the land agents were there, meeting with her. And she and I told them, it's best to to meet with her son, my husband. And then when I came home, lo and behold, land agents had been here at my farm. And he had a draft easement agreement with him, which he loved with us. And we weren't opposed to it, but we weren't knowledgeable about it. And that's when we started to learn and read the agreement. And that's what started my activism and all of this.
Robert Bryce 5:59
So four years ago now. Correct.
Julie Kuntz 6:03
So we are landowners, so we were, if you
Robert Bryce 6:07
don't mind me interrupting to about how about how much land do you own?
Julie Kuntz 6:11
We have about now, so now I have inherited some land from my mom and dad. So it's it's about 1200 acres. And what do you farm? What do you grow? Corn and beans?
Robert Bryce 6:24
And any livestock any other keep animals?
Julie Kuntz 6:27
Yeah, not right now. But we're from Grafton. And Grafton area is known for turkeys and my father in law was one of the original Turkey razors. So we used to have a fair number of turkeys. But we've gotten out of that business.
Robert Bryce 6:40
So corn and soybeans right now. Correct. And we'll just have to ask this before we want to, obviously we're talking about wind energy and solar energy. But what's the situation with fertilizer? How are you doing on on just getting because I mean, I've hear about soaring price of fertilizer, diesel fuel herbicides, give me just a quick vignette. If you're a quick update on how it's going, and are you are you out of corn. I've talked to some farmers who said they're not planning corn, they're planning soybeans, because they have the issues of fertilizer availability, what's your strategy and what's been your experience?
Julie Kuntz 7:10
So we've really cut back on our farming, as my husband is has gotten older. So we don't we lease out or rent out a lot of our land. We still had diesel fuel in the tanks from last year. So we're not going to have that when we go to harvest. But in putting in all of our crap, we were still using the old price diesel fuel. They're out right now today putting nitrogen on. And you know, you pay the inputs, and right now prices, you know, are good. My husband's an excellent marketer. So,
Robert Bryce 7:45
prices prices for grains are good, but Right, but the price of fertilizer is much higher as well, right?
Julie Kuntz 7:51
Oh, you betcha. Yeah, it's going to eat into our profits big time. But
Robert Bryce 7:55
to export it was a year ago. 3x. Give me an idea.
Julie Kuntz 7:59
I can't tell you that. I don't know for sure.
Robert Bryce 8:01
Oh, because at least you're more on the leasing side now or than farming yourself.
Julie Kuntz 8:05
And I'm the pharmacist. I you know, that's my that's my husband's job. So although he I did quit being a pharmacist for a while and became a pharmacist, fa RM, I ran the combine. And, you know, so I'm asking my husband down here to talk to you in more detail on that. But it's, as you know, it's hurting everybody everywhere.
Robert Bryce 8:25
Gotcha. And you're a clinical pharmacist. So you practice in Mason City than I do.
Julie Kuntz 8:30
I work in a doctor's office mainly with type two diabetics, but um, yeah, I work in a doctor's office in Mason City, part time.
Robert Bryce 8:37
Gotcha. So it back to Invenergy and the wind energy efforts that are in Iowa, as I've been, you know, I know you're familiar, because we've been in touch the keep the renewable rejection database for up to 332 communities rejected restricted wind since 2013. Now, I've added some new entries. Why is Iowa I mean, I keep hearing over and over from different parts of Iowa, also, Wisconsin, Ohio, that these are really battleground states for what is what I think is a land grab. That's what I think, take this whole thing is it might major land grab by big corporations in rural America. Is that what it is? Am I miss apprehending? What's going on? And is that why there's been such a backlash, particularly in those three states?
Julie Kuntz 9:23
So there's like 6000 wind turbines in Iowa? I don't know exactly. What this to me, it's all about the production tax credit, you know, which ironically,
Robert Bryce 9:37
subsidy that the wind industry gets.
Julie Kuntz 9:39
Yeah, yeah. And you know, as as their get to be more and we experience it more and we and they become bigger and the negative effects of the of the wind turbines are growing along with the size of the wind turbines. I think the backlash As more and people learn from their neighbors, I think that was a big thing in my area where the farmers here learned from the farmers of the Barton wind farm AVANGRID renewables, so they learned from them about the problems there are with drainage, the problems with aerial spraying, you know, the problems with Shadow flicker what it's like to live around them. So my farmers here in my area, went up to the fertilizer plant and talk to their neighbors talk to their family members, talk to their friends who said don't do it.
Robert Bryce 10:40
And it's because the Well, you mentioned shadow flicker. And has it changed the the moisture patterns, that's one of the other things that I've heard, you know, the proponents say, Oh, well, you know, you can farm in between these, you know, these projects, and so on. But from what a lot of what I've heard is that it actually changes the moisture patterns in and around the turbines themselves, because they change the airflow is that been one of the issues as well,
Julie Kuntz 11:04
I can't say that we've been able to document that or say that, when I would say is the major thing for the farmers around here, we're in Northern Iowa. And drainage tile is key up here. drainage tile is very, very expensive. And if what your neighbor does on drainage tile affects your farm, that's a big deal.
Robert Bryce 11:26
And drainage is a new term for me. And I've talked with other people in Iowa, about this in Madison County, in fact, but so drainage tile that is the where you level out a section of land, and then to assure the water doesn't run off too quickly. Can you explain that quickly?
Julie Kuntz 11:41
No. drainage tile, I should have my husband husband come down here and get on this podcast with you. So you trench in tile, it's generally about four feet under the ground. So it's a round drainage tile, they come in different sizes of sections, you know, eight inch drainage child, it might then tie and tie into a bigger main tile. So it's a it's a pipe. Yep, it's a plastic pipe, oh, and then, and the water goes in there. And then it goes into a main and then it drains out into whether it's a drainage ditch, or you know, another area. So this area is very, very heavy soil, and it doesn't drain very well. So we've got to get that water away so that we can see that our crops do better.
Robert Bryce 12:27
I see. Because you don't want that ground to wet. So you want that why you want that I got you. So in the in the turbans and also from what I understand the solar projects, they they mess up the tiling, they mess up the drainage flow.
Julie Kuntz 12:40
Yeah. You know, I haven't gotten a lot into solar. And but yes, I have heard problems with that. I have also heard with solar, even more concerns about the heat generated by those solar panels. And I know that the Iowa Farm Bureau is really has definite concerns about that, as well as the amount of land use from solar Worth County, from my understanding has 7000 acres signed up for solar. That's huge. Think of how many farmers that's going to take land away from that might be, you know, renting that land, think of all of the, you know, subsequent businesses, whether it's the fertilizer, plant, the seed people and whatever, that that's going to take business away from. So I haven't gotten involved a lot with solar. But that's definitely another concern.
Robert Bryce 13:34
Is it true that in from what I've seen and been reading and people contacting me, and I get a lot of people to contact me about, oh, we'll help me out on this. Or here's another entry for the database. That the shift, there's been a shift, and that it used to be that the big energy, big wind, renewable companies next era, Mid American Aven grid, were only focused on wind. Now they're much more focused on solar. And with this, there's a battle with Invenergy in Dane County, Wisconsin that I can talk about, but have you seen that? Are you been mainly focused on the US? So you've been mainly focused on the wind stuff?
Julie Kuntz 14:08
I have been mainly focused on wind, but there's there's solar too. You know, I know down by Cedar Rapids, and I think you've talked to some of those people as well. It's both I think they liked for some people solar seems less intimidating, because it's not the huge, gigantic towers. Again, people need to get informed and informed citizen is the wind or the solar people's worst, worst nightmare, you know,
Robert Bryce 14:40
saying that again. An informed citizen is the wind industry's worst nightmare.
Julie Kuntz 14:46
You betcha. So I actually so there was a wind installation. This one I was telling you about that Invenergy was trying to get in my neck of the woods in my area of Worth County and we worked hard against this. And what project was that? It was called worthwhile wind. Okay, there was there's two there was worthwhile wind one, or the south one, which was me. And now they're currently working on the worthwhile wind north. And that is the one where the lawsuit is currently going on. Right? The one in my area. They quit, they stopped, they drew away from it, they will not tell you. It's because they couldn't get enough people to sign up. But that is why it is because we got busy down here. We contacted every landowner in the area, we had landowners from Bolivia to Fifth Avenue, New York, to New Zealand, Pennsylvania. We contacted them all. We developed a brochure, we told them, why we were against it, what the what some of the negatives were. And so they couldn't get enough people to sign. I actually Invenergy sent to me, offered me a three mile Nobel perimeter around my home, in return for me sitting down and shutting up.
Robert Bryce 16:13
I read the contract and they give you a document that said that
Julie Kuntz 16:16
yes, yes, I have that document. Will you share it with me? I certainly will. Yes, I also received five, when I correspondence was Michael Blaser their chief legal adviser that he sent me five I feel intimidating emails, asking me who I presumed to represent. So that's that's kind of the way that this company works is is by intimidation. I feel bullying tactics. And I think that's what they're doing here with Worth County in this project that they're working on now. And as they're threatening, while they're not threatening, they are actually now petitioned the court for worth so that they don't have to follow the regulations follow the process of law Worth County developing a wind ordinates
Robert Bryce 17:10
Well, let me let me interrupt if you don't mind because just a quick background for people who aren't listeners aren't familiar with Invenergy. This is the, from what I've read. And what I understand this is the biggest privately held renewable energy developer in the country and therefore likely in the world. It is controlled by a man named Michael Polsky, who is a Forbes puts his net worth at something like $1.5 billion and vintagey. I sent Invenergy several questions, asking them about the lawsuit about what how many turbans, they were planning to put in Worth County, how much money they've spent in Iowa, what they expect to how much tax credit they how many tax credits they've or value of the tax credits they've received. And also about their, you know, the other litigation that they've been involved in because they were sued in Oregon in 2013. In a nuisance lawsuit over noise. So this issue is interesting for a lot of reasons, because in their document in their petition for declaratory judgment, they they they object to the issue of noise limits on the on on, on the on wind projects in the proposed proposed doc guess the proposed requirements that worthwhile is now or that the worst county revenue is now considering? Right. So let me just follow up on the Invenergy part of this because you've talked about the company and what how they behave. So if somehow I could arrange for you to meet Michael Polsky, who got together was a subject of a very flattering piece in Forbes last year. If you could talk to Polsky, what would you tell him?
Julie Kuntz 18:45
You know, when this first started out, I was so frustrated and I couldn't get anybody to talk to me from Invenergy. I begged and begged them to have public meetings and they refuse. So I actually called Invenergy. And when the robot says, you know, who do you want to speak to? I said, Michael Polsky.
Robert Bryce 19:05
You did how long ago
Julie Kuntz 19:09
this would be back in 2018. And I left him messages and I invited him to come out to our century farm. And I said, I'll make you supper. We'll have Iowa sweet corn. You know, I would like to visit with you. I would like I would like to show you this beautiful rural area tell you have our concerns. You know, and tell him about our vested rights, about our, what we've got in our family farms, what we've got in the value of our residents and how we value the quality of life. I didn't get a response from him. Did you get a response from Invenergy? Well,
Robert Bryce 19:50
I sent an email to email three times and then on the third time, just yesterday, I sent it to the same woman Beth Connolly twice and she didn't reply. So then I sent it to her third time and copied the main media outlet and then so she then quickly replied and said, Thanks for your notes. We don't comment on pending actions. So no answer any of my questions just we don't comment. But what would you tell him? I mean, you tried to speak to him, but what would you say to him now, especially given this May 13 lawsuit against the county where you live? What would you what would you what would you tell Michael Polsky?
Julie Kuntz 20:24
Well, they're claiming vested rights in this worthwhile the North project. And again, I would tell him, we as you know, landowners as residents, we have vested rights in this and that I'm, it's such a hot topic and people seem so divisive about wind energy, but some people say that wind energy has a place, it's just not here. I don't agree with that, in my estimation of wind and wind energy doesn't have a place anywhere. It doesn't make sense, from a physics point of view. And I guess I would try to explain that to him. But I think he pretty much knows it. You know, he's not, I really don't feel that Invenergy is doing this to save the world. I don't think they're, I know they're not doing it to be good to Worth County. They're doing it for the bottom dollar. That's that's what they're doing it for. And maybe I guess I would say to him, when is enough? Mr. Polsky? Don't you have enough money? You know? I guess that's one thing I would say to him. But I would be very nice about it.
Robert Bryce 21:37
You are from Iowa, after all? That's what a require.
Julie Kuntz 21:44
Taking? I think we're a little bit too nice.
Robert Bryce 21:46
Take your wind turbine somewhere else, please. Yeah,
Julie Kuntz 21:49
yeah, very good. But no, I don't want them anywhere else. I don't think they make sense anywhere. I just don't if they don't make sense. They don't make sense.
Robert Bryce 21:59
Well, I'm a longtime critic of the wind business, and I will we don't have to go into all that. But so why. So tell me about the lawsuit. Were you surprised that they would go ahead and, and as a quick bit of background for people who haven't been following this, the wind industry has on a regular basis now and I'm specifically a next era, the world's biggest producer of renewable energy MidAmerican Energy, which subsidiary one of the biggest corporations in the world, Berkshire Hathaway, and now Invenergy have sued towns across the country in NextEra, particularly hit in Oklahoma. But in Iowa, even just in the last few months, Mid American energy sued Madison County, Iowa, to effectively forced the county to take turbans that county didn't want. And I see the same thing now in worst County, because it's clear that the Board of Supervisors have made it clear. Well, when they pass the moratorium in April of 2021, right, which expires in July of 2022. That there is a sentiment widespread in the county as in Madison County that we don't want any more turbans here, go somewhere else. So were you surprised me just a bit a bit of a digression there, but are you surprised that Invenergy sued?
Julie Kuntz 23:08
So I'm also going to add to that, so in Hardin County, Iowa, our W. E. They claimed vested rights. Okay, but that that lawsuit was recently dropped, it was scheduled to go to trial on April 6, but that was dropped. Interestingly,
Robert Bryce 23:24
in our county, our web dropped the suit, right? Correct. And they dropped it. The timing on that is important because that happened just a few weeks after Diane Fitch, the supervisor in Madison County switched her position after the after MidAmerican sued the county and, and changed and said, Okay, we relent and we'll let the
Julie Kuntz 23:42
Madison County Right. Right. But yeah, but
Robert Bryce 23:45
but but Fitz changed her position shortly before our W E changed or dropped its lawsuit. So the sentiment from other people in Madison County was that if only Fitch had hung on that the Mid American would have might have done the same as our W E and just simply gone away.
Julie Kuntz 23:59
Okay. Yes, good point. Good point. Now in Paige County, Iowa, another very rural area there. Conversely, the residents have threatened to sue the supervisors for not protecting them. Oh, really?
Robert Bryce 24:15
Yeah. So this is, tell me about that. Because one of the things that I've heard over and over in different communities across the country is you know, I've interviewed dozens of rural landowners and people like you, and frankly, and I'm not just telling you the truth. It's a lot of people like you, mostly women, a lot of farm women who are working from their kitchen tables, and this is their cause because they're forced into it. But how have How has this controversy affected relationships within the community in Werth County? What is it done? Has it been divisive?
Julie Kuntz 24:49
Yes, yes, it's polarized people, but it's, you know it. You can look at that in different ways. It's, I've gotten to know people and gotten close to people. So As it has, it has been a polarizing issue. It's it's it's very sad, because in some instances, you know, there are family members pitted against each other. So the way that these companies work, how the way they come in? It's not been good. It's not been good. So, yeah, it's not been good.
Robert Bryce 25:28
So then people stopped talking to each other. They're not they're not friendly anymore. When they see him in town, they don't they don't do the friendships ruptured. Is that Is that Is that what you're getting to? Is there have
Julie Kuntz 25:39
been some cases of that I have felt at certain meetings, and that at certain gatherings of people that most people, we can talk about it and agree to disagree. But there's a few times where people that I know that have wind turbines, and I've been very, of course vocal against it, that I've been shunned by them, if you will, doesn't bother me. But if it was a family member or something, that would that would certainly be a hurtful thing. So again, I have repeatedly asked Invenergy to have public meetings, you know, so it can be discussed in public, and they refuse to have such.
Robert Bryce 26:19
So, and just maybe if I asked this, and if I did, but so why did Invenergy Sue, why don't you I have the plate here, it's 11 pages, and they're asking for a declaratory judgment that the county not beat not be the court rule that the that the the they run a declaratory judgment that the ordinance is arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and contrary to public policy, and that they want the court to rule that they have vested rights. And so it but is there that isn't just about the money? They they're, they're angling to collect the tax credits. What is what's it root? What's what's fundamentally at stake here?
Julie Kuntz 26:55
Well, I think to as you mentioned, there's there's a number of these suits going on, you know, so there, I think. I think they're trying to make a statement here with us, perhaps that might be part of it. You know, hold us up as an example, see here, what we did. Again, we're a county of 7400 people. We got two stoplights. In this county people were a small rural community. So it's a matter of them intimidating us and threatening us. I think they're kind of seeing the the domino effect of where more and more of these counties are going up against these big corporations. So
Robert Bryce 27:35
and is it that simple? Is it and is this intimidation?
Julie Kuntz 27:41
I don't know, I guess that would be a question for them. You know, what I think what they want is they don't want to have to follow the due process, they have recommended that they that Worth County Supervisors sign a road use agreement. And in that road use agreement, they have said we'll add some extra things in there to give you these protections that you want. We will add a 1500 foot setback from residences, we will give you 50 DBA. sound levels sound level. Okay. So,
Robert Bryce 28:16
is that what they're in favor of? Because that wasn't clear in the lawsuit. It was one of the questions I put into engergy. And the the noise issue is one that I think is particularly important, because Invenergy has already been sued on that issue. Right next year and other companies this is the noise pollution issue is the one that, frankly, for me is the issue that having dealt with noise pollution, my own home and because long story, but that this is the one that wind industry has been downplaying for a decade for more than a decade, but that has been proven over and over and over again. So so what were the noise limits that are in the on the pending restrictions or the pending ordinance? ordinance is pending? And we're we're counting now. Right? Is that right?
Julie Kuntz 28:59
Right. There is a draft ordinance. So we only have zoning in three townships of our county. Okay, we're only partially zoned. And the reason they're in those three townships is because interstate 35 goes through those three townships. And so it was a requirement way back then. So that's important to know. As far as the wind ordinance that was developed, a great job was done by our Planning and Zoning Commission. They looked at 38 Other counties ordinances in Iowa, they talked to the Farm Bureau to the Public Health Council, or county conservation or county engineer, they talked to Invenergy. Okay. They'd put in hundreds of hours in putting together this awesome, awesome wind ordinance. They have rationale behind all of their points on it. One of them is sound. And we as the group of crows, the concerned resident So forth and Winnebago actually hired an acquisition. And don't ask me his name because I don't have it on the top of my head right now. But we actually hired an acquisition to address that. And it's, it's listed in three different decibel filters. Sound is a very, very complex thing. And to just say DBA is, is not appropriate. It's not enough. Yeah, it is not enough. So we hired an acoustician. We have great sound language. And you would have to refer to that. And we have the rationale behind that. So when they did the ordinance, they looked at it in especially three different sections, Instead of lumping everything together into setback, like, here's your setback, they looked at sound setback, and shadow flicker separately, okay, along with a whole other host of things, but those were the three main things. But by looking at those three things separately, and we didn't put in a setback distance to take care of sound, we treated sound as sound, so that they have to meet sound levels. Okay. But again, a very complex thing, and you can't just say 50 DBA. You know, that's timeshare average answer any of them have
Robert Bryce 31:22
averaged over 24 hours or something has mean exactly because it can be much higher than that or much lower. But the language that they use in the, in the lawsuit here, it says they're objecting to the proposed requirements include numerous unreasonable new restrictions, including but not limited to, and one of them is sound standards that would unrealistically require the wind project to have sounds lower than the levels of common everyday sounds. And then a standard unprecedented iOS zero shadow flicker at the property line of an adjoining property that would completely prevent wind turbine construction. So it's clear that the ordinance that has been drafted but not adopted yet, is that right? It hasn't been at that is correct. So the so they're reading, they're reading the proposed language and saying, Hey, this is really to this, this, this box is us out. And so they're trying to effectively force their way in. So um, but I have to ask this question, because there's one right off the top of my head. If the oil and gas industry were acting like this, would it be getting more news coverage?
Julie Kuntz 32:22
Robert Bryce 32:23
So why isn't this getting more news coverage? And what do you think of the big media outlets that have so far been covering this issue? And in particular, what you saw, I think I sent it to you with National Public Radio a few months ago, what do you think about what their coverage is? What does it look like to you?
Julie Kuntz 32:38
I think it's horrid, you know, and it's all virtue signaling, and they see what they want to see. And you know, they they don't, is it hard, like after you push something for so long, you pushed it and pushed it and pushed it and believed in it? Isn't it hard to say? I was wrong? You know, um, so
Robert Bryce 33:03
you think it's that simple that this belief in renewables has been so widespread and so inculcated or, you know, been so widespread that that now people have so religion?
Julie Kuntz 33:14
Yeah, it's like people are some people are just, it's, it's like, there's so it's their religion, they're just so
Robert Bryce 33:24
wedded whether wedded to the idea of render that renewables are good and renewables are green. Right? So but if Exxon Mobil was acting like Invenergy, what would that what would the news coverage look like?
Julie Kuntz 33:38
Well, it would be front and center, and it would be the big bad, you know, the big bad Exxon people. You know, they would be the monster.
Robert Bryce 33:49
But because it's Invenergy, and its wind, it gets ignored. And maybe
Julie Kuntz 33:53
two because it's Iowa, because we're the, you know, I know, I'm using a trite expression but flyover country, and, and I have is, I really think a lot of people don't, it's a very complex, you know, topic. A lot of people, you know, they drive by these things, 7080 miles an hour on the interstate, I don't think they really dig into it and learn about it. And I was one of those people, you know, a lot of people just don't really know everything about it.
Robert Bryce 34:24
And the more they know, the the less they're going to like, right? It's interesting you say that, because that was one of the findings. And I wrote about this in National Review. Now something like 10 years ago, there was a guy, I think it was University of Maryland who done an analysis of public perceptions. And he said, and I was on the call and the webinar and he said, Yeah, the more people know about the wind industry, the less they like it. I mean, I was slack jawed. I mean, it was really it was amazing. That's exactly right. So just a quick station break. My guest is Julie Koontz. She is a resident of Grafton, Iowa, which is in worst County. She is part of a group called concerned residents of worth and Winnebago counties Iowa. That's a Facebook page and you can find them on Facebook. They also have a GoFundMe page for the worst County, Iowa citizens legal funds. So if you're inclined to donate, they are facing some legal battles with Invenergy, which is a very wealthy company that is trying to force wind turbines into Madison or into work County. One of the things that's interesting is I say that, Julie is that in Madison County MidAmerican, filed a lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors. And I wrote I wrote about it in in Forbes and said that they were intimidate trying to intimidate the Board of Supervisors and company objected to that word, they just oh, we're not trying to intimidate. I thought, Well, what else would it be, then? Why are you lost? Why that why file a lawsuit if the if the objective is not intimidation?
Julie Kuntz 35:43
I agree. So yeah, Invenergy just they don't want to follow the, the, the lawful, you know, regulation of industrial when they want to so 40% of the project of this worthwhile project up in the north. west part of the county is in land that is zoned is in townships that zone 40% of it. So
Robert Bryce 36:12
what are those townships where it's were part of
Julie Kuntz 36:16
that would be Brookfield, and I can't remember the other one. I can't remember the other name of that other township anyway. So what So and this these turbines don't fit into the zoning ordinance, they would have to get a special use permit.
Robert Bryce 36:35
Here it is Heartland Brookfield and Danville
Julie Kuntz 36:37
so not Danville, the first two. Okay,
Robert Bryce 36:41
if the county adopted a zoning ordinance, that's in 2009. But, okay,
Julie Kuntz 36:45
so they are zoned, and they so they have to get a special use permit there. Well, Invenergy doesn't want to do that. They just want this road use agreement, which would say, Okay, we don't even have to get the special use permit for those two townships. Okay. Also, I want to add that in the ordinance that we were talking about this well written ordinance that has is out there.
Robert Bryce 37:10
Pending with when might the ordinance be voted on, by the way?
Julie Kuntz 37:12
So first, what they did is, it was decided that we needed countywide zoning. Okay. So right, that's what we're doing right now is getting countywide zoning over all of the townships
Robert Bryce 37:26
or wind energy conversion systems are with
Julie Kuntz 37:28
in general, open wide zoning period. Okay, just a county wide zoning. And then then look at the wind ordinance. So and that is all happening right now that public hearings are going to be going on for the zoning, we actually took our moratorium and put it out just a few more weeks, so that we could get this planning and the zoning for the entire county done. And then we will do the wind ordinance. And I want to mention, I think it's important to know on that wind ordinance that Invenergy is saying is, you know, going to block them out. It is not because in the ordinance, it is written that the company can get, you know, get waivers from people. So what it does, it gives people small landowners two acres, 10 acres, you know, 20 acres, it gives them some rights, so that the company has to go to them and get them to sign off. You know, agree to the effects, right? Give them some compensation, as opposed to just the big landowners. Right? You know, so there is.
Robert Bryce 38:41
And that's and that's one of the other big friction points, right between in these battles that I've heard about. It's the absentee landowners versus the residents. And it's also the smaller land holders against the larger land holders, and that the larger land holders can then you know, get a lease and get get money from these wind projects and their neighbors get no money and yet have to live with consequences. Exactly. So there's a there's a lot of different power dynamics playing out here, right between the big business and small county and small rural counties, but it's also the bigger landowners versus the small landowners and the absentee landowners versus the residents. Right. So there's a lot of different dynamics here. But I guess what the question is, we're talking Julian, you made it clear when we met in our Lea Minnesota some months ago. You're committed to this. Why? And I can tell and you know, anger motivates a lot of my work but what motivates us Why do you so motivated on this? Why do you you're
Julie Kuntz 39:39
coming across as angry that's what you're saying?
Robert Bryce 39:42
Well, you can be pissed off and and have a smile on your face. Right? But
Julie Kuntz 39:47
Robert Bryce 39:48
I am passionate and why what motivates us on this? What motivates you so so what makes you so passionate about it?
Julie Kuntz 39:55
I think a lot of it is the way that I have seen Invenergy They do their business.
Robert Bryce 40:03
How would you describe it? If you could a couple words,
Julie Kuntz 40:06
I had a good friend that said said at a public hearing that said, you know, this is not a company that you want to do business with. This is not a company you want your neighbor doing business with. So I have personal knowledge of Invenergy going to a small acreage owner and telling him that neighboring land is all been signed up. That big farmer, he signed all this up. So here's this Good Neighbor agreement, which is something they like to get landowners to sign and then give them you know, a pittance amount of money. But in so doing, they give up all rights, legal recourse if there are problems. They said, you might as well sign this because all this land is going to be full of turbines. Well, I knew the neighboring landowner. I said, you're kidding. He signed up. I didn't know that. Let's give him a call. I signed up. I called the neighboring landowner. He hadn't talked to him. When they had come, he'd been busy cleaning out a bin he hadn't signed up. So there's a lot of, you know, nefarious tactics. You know, it's it's been very concerning, as I mentioned, with our older people. They were offered if they would sign up at a certain time, like $1,000 bonus if they signed up right away. I don't think that's I don't think that's fair and good. I don't think it's ethical to kind of push somebody to sign up that way. These are, these are leases on land. These are easement agreements that are going to last decades and decades, you know, up to up to 50 years. So I don't appreciate the way that in, in this case, Invenergy has done their business. And I the more I learned about wind energy, it does not make sense for our grid, and then talking about our grid. I wanted to tell you this, I was at a local implement dealer who sells lawn mowers and all that kind of stuff. And he sells generators,
Robert Bryce 42:08
farm implements, right? Yeah. So he sells he sells.
Julie Kuntz 42:11
Yeah, go ahead. So he has had to buy a whiteboard to put on there. All the back orders for generators
Robert Bryce 42:20
that he has, is this in Mason County or in Mason
Julie Kuntz 42:24
Mason City. This is in Mason City? Yes.
Robert Bryce 42:27
Demand for generators is through the roof. I know that I've written about it. Generac have friend of mine in Houston. She was She ordered her generator last year last December and she has to wait a year. They have a year long waiting list.
Julie Kuntz 42:39
Right? And it's on our news all the time, you know about the potential brownouts and blackouts and the you know, the the miso talked about how we're going to be you know, deficient because of yeah, all of that. So it's I think once that starts happening, maybe then we'll see a change. Maybe then we'll see.
Robert Bryce 43:00
So what So what's next, then the has this has the county responded to the lawsuit yet. It's only been this is May 13. We're on June 3. So they, I guess they have what 30 days or something to reply. What What's the have you been in touch with the county attorney? What's the what's the county's? What's the county's response so far?
Julie Kuntz 43:19
So the county has contacted their liability insurance, who has hired a law firm out of Des Moines. So they will be handling this, our planning and zoning commissioner is very sharp on all of this and he has all of the documents and all the data. A rebuttal if you will, to Invenergy his petition. So I think he will be working that's what we're going to be using the the Legal Defense Fund for to to help shore up the county's you know, response.
Robert Bryce 43:56
So this private is the private group the Concerned Citizens of worth and Winnebago using the money that you raised through GoFundMe to help the county help the county legal team in their effort. Correct. Have you thought about suing Invenergy directly? Or do you have a claim? I'm just I don't know whether that's that's a possibility or not. But I know, in Dane County, Wisconsin, just got the clip the other day, there's a project called cost kokang solar, local groups up there have been contacting me about it, and it was approved by the Public Utility Commission, Wisconsin, but the Local Group just sued the state over the permit that was given to that solar project that is own there's being pushed by Invenergy. So there's a lot of litigation happening here. But is it would citizens in worst county have a case against Invenergy?
Julie Kuntz 44:45
I don't know. And when you're dealing with trying to sue Invenergy, and their pockets are so deep, and you know, I think it'd be a matter of who could Outlast who perhaps I'm not sure. But I did want to mention when you said that up there in Wisconsin, how they got the permit from their utility board, correct? Yep. Iowa is a little bit unique. According to Iowa code 476, a, any energy generating facilities less than 25 megawatts at a single gathering site do not have to go through the Iowa Utilities Board. Okay. Okay. So that's why again, it's all falls on to the supervisors. So, so this was never approved by the Iowa Utilities Board. It doesn't have to have, you know, any oversight it and the Iowa DNR has no regulatory capacity, they can make recommendations, but they do not have any regulatory capacity. We did get a hold of the DNR report on this worthwhile project. It seems that Invenergy, you know, gets this report, but then they do their, quote, own high level desktop review. And they really don't follow the Iowa DNR guidelines or recommendations whatsoever. The Iowa DNR has active eagle nest of six eagle nest in this project area. According to Invenergy. There's only two I thought you might not like to know that as far as being the bird lover, you are. Well.
Robert Bryce 46:19
Okay, well, now you're making me mad.
Julie Kuntz 46:23
I can give you this whole report. It's it's quite interesting. Yeah.
Robert Bryce 46:27
Because NextEra Energy was prosecuted under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, of course, by the Department of Justice in April, they pled guilty to three misdemeanor violations. They should have been charged of felony violations of the migrant of the Golden Golden Eagle Protection Act. They weren't or the golden Golden Eagle Protection Act. They weren't. But they put that project right in the middle of known Eagle habitat.
Julie Kuntz 46:47
Oh, this is this says there is no no way that anything and in fact, I think it's how many turbines so the the Iowa DNR use strong language saying they strongly recommended against. There were two paragraphs that they said they strongly recommended against any turbines in several sites. And I believe it's 24 out of the 56 turbines if I recall our square smack dab in these areas where the Iowa DNR recommended no turbines.
Robert Bryce 47:29
So and that's the is that the number of the 56 turbines that that would that Invenergy wants to put in worst County? Is that right? We don't
Julie Kuntz 47:37
know for sure. That keeps changing and morphing, as does the as does the project area. So even as late as September of 2021. The Invenergy rep could not tell us exactly how many turbines or specifically what kind of turbines were going to be put up on that April 12 2021 date when that temporary moratorium was put into place. That was the first time ever that Invenergy officially was represented at a board of supervisors meeting. Okay,
Robert Bryce 48:13
so all before this, they were working behind the scenes or not no official, no official agenda items or anything regarding a project would cover what several 1000 acres?
Julie Kuntz 48:24
Oh, definitely. Yeah, I think at one time, were they saying 20,000 acres. You know, but that that again, keeps but they just sign up everybody? They sign up everybody they can and now they've got people signed up. They continue to sign up people even during the moratorium. We are planning and zoning asked for them to give comment on the proposed ordinance the draft ordinance. They refused because they said it did not pertain to them. So yeah, they, they're they're they're Invenergy they're, you know, they're big. So they're just doing whatever they want. And they
Robert Bryce 49:09
use nefarious tactics.
Julie Kuntz 49:11
i I see it as nefarious tactics. Yes.
Robert Bryce 49:15
So is that have you done any kind of polling in the county for the you know, this was a big issue in Madison County where I know Heather Stancil, the super board supervisor in Madison County, Heather Stancil, that they had done polling in the county to see what kind of level of support the project had. They found overwhelming opposition, have you done anything similar in worth?
Julie Kuntz 49:39
I have in my project area, I personally canvass every landowner over 40 acres. And I have my friend Matt Helgason also looked in the project area where he lives in Winnebago County and our our findings mirrored each other where over 80% of the of the The landowners residents were opposed to this project. I haven't done any
Robert Bryce 50:06
Matt in Albert Lee. Did I not? You did? Yeah. Right. Yeah.
Julie Kuntz 50:11
So he's the Winnebago side of this.
Robert Bryce 50:13
Maybe mid 30s, early 40s. brown haired guy. Yep. Yeah, I remember Sure.
Julie Kuntz 50:18
Yep. Yep. So he's, he really did a lot of the work on the sound part of the, of the wind ordinance. We're very thankful for him for doing that. So we haven't had any official polling, but what I would tell you is the biggest statement is how these pro wind supervisors have all not been reelected. Okay.
Robert Bryce 50:44
Well, this is what's the what was the same? This is the same that I've heard in other counties across the country, but it's in Madison County, that was clearly the case that the the and will in New York state as well, right, whereas the Pro was supervisors were either drummed out or ran for reelection and got soundly defeated. So you're, you've elected supervisors that are opposed to wind projects in in worst County, because the vote on the moratorium was to one right.
Julie Kuntz 51:09
I can't say that they were opposed to win projects. They will tell you, they are not anti wind, but they are for reasonable regulations. And this ordinance that we have is it's like I say it's got all the rationale. It's it's got all the and it and it's got the waivers on there. So it puts the hand of the it's puts it in the hands of the developer, to do the sighting, to do the work to speak to all of the landowners to make it fair for everyone. So because everybody's got property rights, whether you've got, you know, 10,000 acres or 10 acres.
Robert Bryce 51:47
So, so what's next for you then on this fight? I mean, you've talked, you've given us the background for the county's involvement in the county's adoption of the new ordinance, countywide zoning. But the zoning comes before I guess the the ordinance and Is that so? That's correct. Give me an idea, in terms of how long with this timeframe is?
Julie Kuntz 52:07
So they're doing the public hearings? You know, you've got to put it in the paper and all of that for the county wide zoning. I would I believe that will be done by July, I'm thinking that a decision one way or the other on the ordinance will be done. I'm kind of guessing here, but I'm saying By September, okay. The road use agreement that that was brought up for a motion on May 9. This is the road use agreement that Invenergy said here, we'll give you this will throw you a 1500 foot setback and 50 DBA and blah, blah, blah. So that failed on May 9.
Robert Bryce 52:49
And they sued four days later.
Julie Kuntz 52:51
And they sued four days, four days later. Right? Right. So it's everything's going pretty fast. But now Now we've got this new attorney out from Des Moines. So he needs to get up to speed. And I don't know this guy. I, I would like it if if a group of citizens could meet with him.
Robert Bryce 53:13
I'm because he's representing but he's represented, but he is effectively working for the insurer who's ensuring the county. Correct. So it's not it's not exactly what he's working directly for the immunity. It's a little bit of an arm's length deal. But he's still you're still on the same team of effectively. Is that Is that a fair way to put it?
Julie Kuntz 53:30
Correct. And I think it's important that he knows some of this this background, you know, and then he knows the passion that that's going on here. So I'm hoping I'm hoping this attorney is passionate.
Robert Bryce 53:47
So a couple of last things, Julie, because we've been talking now for over 50 minutes, and I like to keep my podcast for at an hour or so. So what are you reading? I mean, you obviously you're consumed with a lot of this and you're busy. You're professional in health care what's you take time off you read Tom Tom Clancy novels, what's on the top of your reading list these days?
Julie Kuntz 54:15
So right now, I'm reading the American Diabetes Association guidelines.
Robert Bryce 54:21
Let's see. I was gonna say, is it going to be regulated regulatory statutes? Is it because Heather Stancil the board supervisor in Madison County said yeah, I read a lot of public documents. I don't read novels. But anyway, you did show the diabetes documents.
Julie Kuntz 54:36
Yeah, a lot invested rights right now and I've got Michael Shellenberger Apocalypse never on my on my nightstand. But I do have in like my spare time. I like I'm getting back into hooking rugs. I'm a I'm a rug hugger. So there you go. Not quilt. No, I have quilted but I prefer rug hooking
Robert Bryce 54:59
so and why Is that I'm just curious what because
Julie Kuntz 55:02
because you don't need a sewing machine it's much Yeah. And it's something my mom taught me how to do. And it's I really enjoyed that the the wool and the
Robert Bryce 55:13
but not the texture and the pattern, but if you're not a knitter, then
Julie Kuntz 55:16
I'm not a knitter, not this is rug hooking? Yeah.
Robert Bryce 55:19
Yeah. No, I'm familiar with what it is. But I've just, you know, they're these crafts that have different attractions to them. And my wife does a little sewing but only only a little bit. It's, but she's also a potter and does all these other things that are really, yes, yes. She's quite quite artistic and a photographer, and just generally wonderful, because, well, we're married 36 years now this in June 7. So anyway, thank you. So what gives you hope, a doula. You know, I, if you've listened to the podcast, I also ask people what gives you hope what, so you're up against a very big company that is clearly not it doesn't seem to be too interested in playing what a lot of people would consider cards up or playing fair, what gives you hope.
Julie Kuntz 56:04
So you know, I have faith. So, whatever will be will be all will be well.
So prayer helps, you know, just if the wind turbines get put up, it will be okay. It All will be well, God will take care of us all.
So it's, you know, the people I work with and on this, the, our planning and zoning, the whole Commission, the great job they've done, you know, showing all the people that care, you know, our supervisors, all three of them, all three of them that put time and effort and care into this. I guess that gives me hope, no matter the outcome, all will be well.
Robert Bryce 56:53
Well, that's good place to stop. So we'll stop there. My guest has been Julie Coots, the indomitable Julie cook. She is a resident of Grafton, Iowa and a member of concerned residents of worth and Winnebago counties. You can find out more about them on Facebook. Again, it's concerned residents of worth and Winnebago counties. Oh, I have to ask you. I'm sorry. I know I said it was the last question. But a lot of the media coverage that I've seen, and that seems like it's been very carefully engineered is these reporters from big media outlets saying, Oh, these anti renewable crowd, they're using Facebook and spreading misinformation? Have you seen this that?
Julie Kuntz 57:28
Oh, definitely. What
Robert Bryce 57:29
do you think of that? It was one of the questions I have down here. I have to ask it because I mentioned Facebook. What the hell what why are they Oh, they're using Facebook for misinformation. The NPR reporter even contacted Facebook and say, Are you aware of this? What do you think like, isn't
Julie Kuntz 57:43
the NPR reporter then contact me? Why doesn't she come contact? And I? I asked her to, to contact me and she did not.
Robert Bryce 57:53
You contacted Julia Simon? Yes.
Julie Kuntz 57:57
Yes. So then why aren't they contacting us? You know, Facebook is a tool. I was not even on Facebook before all of this stuff started. But it's a tool. And you can get misinformation anywhere, whether it's the mainstream media or Facebook. So
Robert Bryce 58:15
but it's a relatively easy way for people like you to spread information and organize.
Julie Kuntz 58:21
You bet. Exactly. Exactly. And yes, Julie assigns give me a call.
Robert Bryce 58:28
Well, I she might be listening to this podcast. I rather doubt it but it's possible. Well, again, my guest has been Julie Coots. She's a member of the concerned residents of worth in Winnebago County as you can find her on Facebook. You can also if you're inclined to help them with their legal fight against Invenergy on their GoFundMe page, the Worth County Iowa citizens legal fund. Julie thanks a million for being on the power hungry podcast. Thank you, Robert. And all you in podcast land tune in for the next episode of this podcast is going to be just as good as this one, but probably not much better. Until then, see you