How should wind turbine use in Michigan be governed: at the state or local level?
That’s the question at hand in light of two wind turbine House bills recently introduced in the Legislature.
If passed, the bills (HR4648 and HR4649) would permit wind turbines in all zoning classifications within Michigan counties, subject to certain restrictions.
Under the bills’ current language, wind turbines in both commercial and residential areas would be exempt from local zoning if they:
• are set back from all property lines at a distance at least equal to its height.
• don’t generate more than 60 decibels of noise at the closest property line.
• have blades that are 20 feet from the ground.
In Mason County – and likely others – the bills threaten to undo a lot of work done at the local level.
Hundreds of Mason County residents turned out to county and township zoning meetings in the last few years to given their opinions about wind turbines. Their comments helped shape local zoning laws.
The majority of opponents and proponents of the bills support wind turbines, and other sources of alternative energy, but do not agree on who should govern them.
Opponents maintain that the state shouldn’t take away local zoning authority, while proponents believe that state guidelines are needed to further the future of wind turbine use in the state.
David Bertram, legislative liaison of the Michigan Townships Association, an organization that opposes the bills, is a proponent of wind energy, but said that’s not what these bills are about. He said the bills would infringe on communities’ rights to regulate zoning.
“It’s not that we’re anti alternative energy,” he said. “What we’re saying is that local government should have the right to control where (wind turbines) are placed and how they’re used. What we support is local units of government zoning. That should not be prescribed in state law.
“This is a matter of local control.”
Bertram said communities have wind turbine ordinances in place for a reason.
The ordinances protect properties that neighbor properties bearing wind turbines. For example, he said, such neighboring properties may experience lower property values because of the turbines. They also reflect concerns the community has with wind turbines, such as the turbines being loud, not aesthetically pleasing, throwing ice in colder temperatures and killing wildlife such as birds.
Bertram notes that the state does not control other aspects of zoning, and that zoning for wind turbines should be no different. That, and other wind turbine-friendly states like Iowa (which has 900 wind turbines, the most in any state) zones for wind turbines at a local level, and is successful in doing so.
Proponents, on the other hand, like Victory Township resident and farmer Matt Mauer, say the state can insert some order into what is currently a chaotic situation.
“We need guidelines from the state. Look at the noise ordinances from (Mason) County, Pere Marquette Township and Hamlin Township. In PM, noise is based on the siting of the windmill, Hamlin says 40 decibels and the county says 45 decibels,” Mauer said. “How can you put anything up with such a hodgepodge.
“We need some kind of uniformity.”
He added that some local ordinances are a bit restrictive, in that in some instances, they do not take into consideration the wind turbine manufacturer. For example, he said, most manufacturers want the maximum noise level for wind turbines at 50-55 decibels, something not offered by all at the local level in Mason County, for example.
The state, he said, can facilitate bringing wind turbines to the area, which are to the benefit of everyone.
Mauer, however, does not agree the bills should permit turbines in all zoning classifications. He said because of their large size, they are needed only in agriculturally zoned areas.
Like opponents of the bills, State Rep. David Palsrok, R-Manistee, also has some concerns about a loss of local control.
“As far as our energy portfolio, renewal energy, including wind turbines, should play a role,” he said. “In regards to legislation, I have some concerns with the approach of having the state dictate where (wind turbines go).”
But his concerns are eased by a belief that the bills will not pass in their current form. He said because there are a lot of former local government officials in the House with concerns about the loss of local control, there are not enough votes to move the bills from the House floor to the Senate.
He said that for the bills to move, some type of local input needs to be incorporated into them. And that means compromise, which he said is plausible.
“We have to come up with something that makes sense for and encourages the siting of windmillls. And there’s gonna have to be a local input for (the bills) to move to legislation.”
“I think we can find (a common ground).”
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