The first commercial wind farm planned for Michigan’s Thumb will be too loud for a rural area and could result in lawsuits unless zoning rules are changed, an Okemos consultant says.
Jeanette Hagen, a manager with Connecticut-based Noble Environmental Power, which plans to begin erecting 41 large windmills in Huron County’s Bingham Township around July, says the consultant’s study is flawed and won’t stop the long-delayed project from progressing.
”So many people are wanting to see these up and we’re hoping to get these up and help energize the economy in the Thumb,” Hagen said.
The study, by E-Coustic Solutions of Okemos, cost about $3,000 and was paid for by Residents for Sound Economics and Planning, a group of Thumb residents that has been critical of the windmill project.
Richard James, principal with E-Coustic Solutions, said Noble overestimated the ambient noise in the township near Ubly because it included the sounds of passing cars and airplanes.
A county zoning ordinance also is too lax, James said, setting an arbitrary standard that allows the hum of the 1.5-megawatt, 385-foot-tall windmills to be as loud as 50 decibels or ambient noise plus 5 decibels at a distance of at least 1,000 feet. That’s comparable to the sound of a washing machine running, James said.
”I have a washing machine in my hallway,” he said. ”I don’t think I would rather have that sound in my backyard than the sound of crickets or bees,” said James, who thinks the windmills should be located offshore in the Great Lakes.
Hagen said the ordinance allows for noise comparable to the sound of a loud refrigerator running.
”If you like turbines, that gentle hum that you may hear isn’t going to annoy you like it would if you were dead set against turbines,” she said.
Hagen said James’ study is just another attempt by the resident group to stop the project. When Noble studied ambient sound to help develop a windmill zoning ordinance, it included the sounds of cars and planes because they’re part of the landscape, Hagen said.
James contends those extra sounds shouldn’t be included because they’re not constant.
James’ study will be discussed by both sides at 7:30 p.m. April 4 during a County Planning Commission meeting at the Huron County Building in Bad Axe.
Hagen said Noble is erecting nine additional windmills, up from 32 originally planned, because the company wanted to make sure it could meet a green power contract with Consumers Energy and is looking at taking on another contract.
Angela Weber, a member of Residents for Sound Economics and Planning, lives about 3 miles east of Ubly in Paris Township, about 1,250 feet from one of the planned windmill sites and at one of three sites surveyed by James.
Weber said her group paid for the study to establish a baseline of sounds in the township before the windmills go up.
Her group, which she said has about 100 members, thinks zoning ordinances need to be updated to require the turbines to be located farther away from homes.
Hagen said Noble’s findings were based on standards in other states. James said Noble used outdated standards and his study was based on accepted national standards, which he helped develop.
Weber said her group hopes county planners will decide to use James’ study or conduct another study to rewrite zoning ordinances that protect the quality of life in rural Huron County.
”None of us want to sue our neighbors, we’re just not that kind of people,” Weber said. ”But if the county ignores this information … it’s a big possibility.”
James’ 9-page study is available online at www.hcwind.com.
By Jeff Kart
26 March 2007
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