Tammy Stoner began with the intention of powering her family’s home with highland breezes and soon learned she isn’t alone in her interest to harness the wind.
A community meeting Stoner hosted at Sherman Township Hall in Osceola County drew 60-plus neighbors.
Stoner, who has studied the use of alternative energy for several years, kicked-off the conversation with a presentation of the history and modern potential of wind power. An informal dialogue continued for three hours.
The wide public interest is spawned by the activities of commercial wind power developers in Osceola, Missaukee and Wexford counties during the past two years. But citizens can from as far south as Hesperia to participate in the conversation.
“For the most part, people are receptive,” Stoner said. “No one stood up and said “˜I don’t want this in my neighborhood.’ They just had questions.”
Many attending have been contacted by developers in pursuit of land leases for potential wind farm developments. Some have already signed contracts, according to Stoner.
Rich Vander Veen forged the way for wind energy in Michigan. Vander Veen is president of Mackinaw Power and was instrumental in establishing the first privately developed commercial wind power project in the state in 2001, the Mackinaw City Wind Power Plant. His advise to the community is “Educate, educate, educate.”
“When you think about energy development, you should think regionally, statewide and Great Lakes wide,” he said.
Done right, Vander Veen believes wind power can transform our economy by freeing us from dependence on foreign energy, creating a healthier environment, generating thousands of jobs for Michigan and lead to entirely new strategies in transportation.
This future is hatching in the highlands. Traverse City-based Heritage Sustainable Energy is one of two developers staking a claim in the highlands of the three-county area.
“We have probably leased over 9,000 acres in those three counties, primarily in Richland Township (Missaukee County),” said Rick Wilson, Heritage land manager.
Heritage intends to install its first area wind turbine in Richland Township sometime in 2007. It is also exploring the resource in Highland Township (Osceola County) and Clam Lake Township (Wexford County). As soon as weather permits, the company will install a meteorological tower in Sherman Township for data collection.
Testing will take place over an estimated two-year period.
Heritage’s long-range plans are dependent on a number of factors, including topography elements, cost of upgrading transmission lines, accessibility required for construction equipment, proximity of participating property owners.
“The ultimate project size and scale is one that fits within the landscape,” Wilson said.
Babcock & Brown, an international company based in Houston, Texas, is just beginning to knock on doors in the highlands, but already has as its goal a commercial wind farm that would feature at least 20 turbines. Its interest lay in Sherman Township where the company has started testing the wind resource, according to Peter Gross, developer.
“By the end of 2007, I hope to have about one year’s worth of wind data and by mid-year to have all the land I could reasonably want signed up – and hope to know enough about the wind resource to proceed to environmental ground and air studies.”
One of the most financially critical factors being studied is the cost of connecting to power transmission lines, cost energy developers must assume.
“We’ll be able to get an interconnection,” Gross said. “The question is, will it be too expensive?”
While developers are getting their ducks in a row, local officials are faced with the task of creating zoning regulations to facilitate controlled placement of developments. Missaukee County is without zoning. However, the Sherman Township Planning Commission is gearing up for the task. The board would like to have ordinances in place within 18 months.
“A lot of people are used to seeing grandma’s windmill behind the house. These are huge,” said Denise Justus, Planning Commission member. “There’s a big learning curve we all have to get on.”
Issues the commission will study include setbacks, noise, transmission lines, visual pollution and the impact to wildlife.
“I’m sure there are a dozen other issues I haven’t thought of that we’ll probably be pulling our hair out over,” Justus said.
The Sherman Township Planning Commission meets the second Tuesday of the month and invites public input to help establish policies that will best meet the community’s wishes.
Your local connection
Primary target areas of locally active wind developers:
# Babcock & Brown, Houston, Texas – Sherman Township (Osceola County)
# Heritage Sustainable Energy, Traverse City – Richland Township, (Missaukee County) and Sherman and Highland townships (Osceola County), Clam Lake Township (Wexford County)
Developer plans for 2007:
# Babcock & Brown will secure land leases, explore costs of transmission line upgrades and conduct studies of the wind resource
# Heritage Sustainable Energy plans to install its first turbine in Richland Township and begin testing the wind resource in Sherman Township
By Sally Barber, Cadillac News
8 March 2007
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