Wind as a power source in western Washtenaw County will be tested in coming months if two townships approve ordinance changes to allow for the installation of monitoring towers.
It’s part of a county initiative to determine if Washtenaw is windy enough to support installation of wind turbines – a green source of electricity.
Two viable test sites – ones with good wind, open space and access to transmission lines – were found in Sylvan and Lima townships, and the farmers who own the property support the testing.
Now it’s up to the respective governmental bodies to give permission to install temporary monitoring towers – called monopoles – that are the height of a 26-story building. The thin poles, only 1.5 feet in diameter, support sensors that measure the duration, frequency and intensity of local winds.
“Basically, it’s a weather station,” said Trent Satterthwaite, a Lima Township farmer who was approached by the county to place a 262-foot monopole on his farm.
In April 2006, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution directing the Department of Planning and Environment to “test the wind resources in the county and examine the feasibility of providing wind generated electricity for county residents and businesses.”
Wind Power Washtenaw is a cooperative effort between the county, Ann Arbor and U-M Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences.
The pending wind study would last a year. Officials hope to get it started this winter by allocating $68,000 for the monopole, data readings and a report to determine the viability of wind farming in the county. Data will be monitored by U-M Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences students and by a professional meteorologist.
Permission is being sought by the county as soon as possible because “the winter winds are the best winds,” said Josh Long, a planner for the county.
“Having data is critical,” said Paul Hoag, a consultant from North Coast Wind and Power of Ohio, hired by the county to explore the feasibility of wind power. His company has projects under way in four states, he said.
“We need to find out if the resource is there,” Hoag said. “Wind resources in Washtenaw County are uncertain at this point.”
If the data shows wind power is feasible in the county, the data will be shared with developers interested in constructing wind turbines, Long said. Wind turbines typically cost between $2 million and $2.5 million each, and can supply electricity for 1,600 homes, Hoag said.
They aren’t without their critics, however. While wind turbine farms have been installed successfully in some parts of the country, the turbines – tall towers with large rotating blades at their top – have been controversial in other areas, where opponents cite visual pollution, noise and bird deaths.
Hoag downplays the problems. “They’re no louder than your neighbor’s air conditioning unit if you live in a subdivision and are 100 yards away,” he said. Studies of the proposed area in Washtenaw County show it is not in the path of migratory birds, and wind turbine blades move slowly, he noted.
The initial monitoring towers are a much less substantial structure, Hoag said. “If you blink, you’ll miss it,” he said of the monopoles.
But before the two monitoring towers can be installed, Sylvan and Lima townships have hearings scheduled to create ordinances allowing the wind equipment. (See related box.)
It takes a day to construct a monopole. The tower, with its guy wires, takes up about an acre and must be marked with a light at its top because of FAA regulations.
Once enough wind data has been collected, the monopole will be deconstructed and removed from the site. The county hopes to sell the structure and recoup some of the purchase price.
“The farmers around here are all for this (wind power),” Satterthwaite said. “Sooner or later, if people don’t wake up, we are going to be an endangered species.”
He said farmers can continue to farm close to the towers, so it isn’t very disruptive. An added benefit, he said, is that it helps ensure that the rural area will remain open space rather than housing developments.
Sylvan Township farmer Reuben Lesser, the other farmer whose property was chosen as a test site for the temporary monopole, agrees that exploring wind power is a good idea.
“It’s something that would be feasible for the future, so why not give it a try?,” Lesser said. “If wind will work, why not? I think it’s interesting.”
News Special Writer
3 December 2007
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