Is the Ridge* the place for the next wind farm?
That question has been blowing around the area for at least two years and now once again at least one energy company is in the area, working to secure landowner lease agreements for test turbines.
The idea is to capture wind and convert it into useful forms of energy, such as electricity. Definitely not a new idea as anyone with even a limited knowledge of historic Dutch farming knows, but so far there are no local wind farms. Wind turbines can either collect power in a single turbine for use on individual farms or from a series of turbines, sending the energy to the main public utility electrical grids.
Supporters say wind energy is both plentiful and renewable, thereby reducing need for fossil fuels, while opponents cite inefficiency, threats to birds and bats, noise, and unsightly landscapes.
Although energy companies, such as Heritage Sustainable Energy, have been casing the Ridge for nearly two years, actual construction of a wind farm is still years away, said Rick Wilson, project manager.
“We are very close in the Fruit Ridge area to having enough land secured to put in a MET (meteorological evaluation tower),” he said. “We try to assemble a block of land of significant size, about 3,000 to 5,000 acres plus to accommodate a wind farm of several turbines.”
The next step is to test for adequate wind. METs would be in place for at least one year. If it is determined there is enough wind, actual turbine construction could then be considered. Complicating the issue further is that few local governments have zoning regulations in place to address placement and construction of wind turbines.
“There probably should be some ordinance in place to regulate them before they go in,” said Sparta Township Clerk Bonnie Robinson.
Landowners in both Sparta and Chester townships have been contacted about leasing land for harnessing wind energy. While some have agreed to begin the process on their property, others are skeptical about potential benefits.
“They approached me,” said Ed Kelly of Conklin, “but I don’t think I am going to do it.”
“They approached us a couple of years ago,” said Robinson. “But in my opinion it sounds better than what it is. They want permanent easement on the property and will tear up a lot of land putting it in.”
“We work hard at minimizing impacts,” said Wilson. “We do little to disrupt their income source (agriculture). Installed, the footprint of a turbine is only about 400 square feet including the exposed foundation, and they can farm right up to the base of the foundation.”
Wilson said he is also aware townships along the Ridge have not yet addressed zoning issues, but is confident about the process. However both the company and local governments are taking a wait and see attitude.
“We know how to work closely with townships to develop the appropriate language in ordinances necessary,” said Wilson. “We think this is a great opportunity for local farmers to benefit from renewable energies and communities will realize the benefits to the local economy.”
“We asked for something in writing and are going to wait for now,” said Sparta Township Supervisor Dale Bergman. “But as soon as we get a formal request for a specific location, we will take a look at the ordinances.”
The process to get to actual turbines seems like a ways off, so if Ridge travelers see anything soon it will be a MET. Wilson said testing towers are very narrow and have almost no impact.
“But they are very tall,” he said. “We make them as high as possible, close to 200 feet, so we can get as accurate read on wind as possible.”
If leases are in place soon, MET installation may require zoning changes, and then there will be a year of testing and more negotiations. It seems it is safe to say the tailwind behind this idea of gathering wind power on the Ridge may be gaining, but certainly isn’t up to hurricane strength yet.
*Noted for its favorable clay soil and elevation above the frost line, the area dubbed The Ridge, lies along the northern edge of Kent and Ottawa counties.
by Jan Holst
Monday January 07, 2008
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