With the area’s first commercial wind turbine scheduled for installation in November, some people are beginning to worry about the potential impact of the development to their property and neighborhoods.
An open public discussion is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Oct. 4 at the Tustin Community Center. The meeting is organized by local property owner Tammy Stoner at the request of several Sherman and Highland township residents. Stoner is a proponent of wind energy and is expected to become the first certified residential wind site assessor in Michigan by the end of the year.
“Although I have mixed emotions, I do think some of these people have legitimate concerns,” Stoner said. “That is why I was willing to organize and moderate this.”
Concerns expected to be on the table Thursday include visual pollution and property setbacks.
One goal of the meeting is to unite and empower people in the ordinance development process. With no state or federal guidelines regulating wind farms, local government units must create their own ordinances.
Two turbines installed this autumn are part of the 6,500-acre Stoney Corners Wind Farm project developed by the Traverse City-based Heritage Sustainable Energy, LLC. Turbines will be located in Missaukee County’s Richland Township south of Stoney Corners Road between La Chance and Brown roads. Standing at about 330 feet, the 2.5 megawatt turbines are expected to be online next spring. The ultimate goal of the operation is to produce 100 MW.
Heritage has entered a 10-year agreement with DTE Energy to provide wind supply for DTE’s GreenCurrents renewable energy program for electricity generated by the wind farm.
Neither Missaukee County nor Richland Township have ordinances addressing turbine placement, construction issues, public health and safety, potential damage to adjacent property, decommissioning or other possible problems. According to Heritage project manager Rick Wilson, the company intends to follow guidelines established by the state for wind turbines.
“We have very few ordinances in Richland Township,” said Township Supervisor Karlene Paffhouse. “We didn’t see a problem. They (Heritage) are working with landowners and they’ve explained the process and what will happen.”
How local government officials handle wind energy issues varies widely. Whereas state guidelines recommend turbine setbacks equal to the height of the turbine, in this case 330 feet, Otsego County has set forth stricter setbacks. The county ordinance requires a 2,600-foot setback from adjacent property lines and six times the height of the turbine from a public or private road right-of-way or easement.
The visual impact of the commercial towers was one concern.
“As you get farther into the air you get more stable wind. They (developers) were wanting to put in towers the height of Grand Traverse Resort,” said Ken Arndt, Otsego County Planning Commission member.
The commission spent more than two years researching issues related to wind farms and enlisted the assistance of experts from Michigan Technological University, Michigan State University and MIT to establish policies to resolve growing public concerns pertaining to view impact, flicker, decommissioning and noise. Based on their studies, noise was identified as a key problem. After lengthy research and discussion the regulation was made simple.
“If it makes noise and we can measure it, you shut it down,” Arndt said.
The guiding principal in establishing the county’s rules was also simple.
“Our concerns were primarily safety and livability,” he said.
Heritage is expanding its acquisition of land lease options to the Osceola County townships. The area is also targeted for wind energy development by the Houston-based Babcock & Brown Renewable Energy Holdings. Sherman Township officials have been grappling with the need to establish tower ordinances since last winter when Heritage and B&B applied for special land use permits to erect wind test towers. The planning commission is expected to decide this week whether it will hire a consulting firm for assistance with ordinance creation or whether the board will tackle the effort on its own.
“We have copies of ordinances adopted by other townships and counties,” said Denise Justus, township planning commission member. “We want to take what’s good from them, but not copy. We want what’s good for Sherman Township.”
For now, Highland Township is relying on its cell tower ordinance to cover commercial wind development, according to Ardith Sikkema, township board member.
“We’re studying the Michigan state guidelines to see if we need to add to our ordinance.”
Highland Township has no target date for setting its wind turbine regulations.
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Wind Energy Forum
# Open public discussion: How will commercial wind farm development affect our community?
# When: 6:30 p.m., Oct. 4 at Tustin Community Center, 310 S. Neilson St., Tustin
# Who: All residents welcome. Equal time given to both sides of the controversial topic.
# For more information: Call moderator Tammy Stoner, (616) 262-3152
By Sally Barber
3 October 2007