The members of the Ottawa County Planning Commission have given a letter of support for a proposal that would allow a team from Grand Valley State University to look at the impact of wind generating facilities on West Michigan.
The proposal, which is being spearheaded by Assistant Professor of Natural Resources Management Erik Nordman, Ph.D., would look at everything from how to mitigate the conflicts that would happen if turbines were placed along the coast of Lake Michigan, where they could be seen from the shore, as well as looking at similar problems that arise when turbines are placed in agricultural areas.
“This is an integrated assessment approach,” Nordman told the members of the Planning Commission. “We have looked at other areas of the country where groups have tried to build wind turbines and it has become so controversial that in the end, they didn’t get built. We want to pull together all of the information, look at policies and management techniques, and engage stakeholders so that when companies decide to move ahead with their projects, most to the issues have already been addressed.”
Nordman has applied for a Michigan Sea Grant for $120,000 to fund the study. He will learn later this year if his group has been given the grant and can move forward with the project.
Members of the Planning Commission struggled with even supporting the study as they said that supporting the study may send the wrong message to residents of Ottawa County.
“I have some concerns about giving a letter of support from the Planning Commission without having the support from the local units of government,” said Ottawa County Planning and Grant Director Mark Knudsen. “It may appear that once the study says that you can put turbines in the lake, you will hear a hue and cry like you’ve never heard before. It will be like we are supporting that and all we are supporting is the study.”
Other members like Jeffrey Wincel had different thoughts on a letter of support.
“I feel that it is important that the study be done. The value is in the variables the project will study,” he said.
The study will look at the economic, social, and technical aspects that need to be addressed early on to reduce conflicts with residents and governmental officials. The study will also create a map that locates areas in West Michigan where wind turbines may be located but with the likelihood of environmental, social, or economic conflicts.
Nicki Arendshorst is from Park Township and sits on the Park Township Planning Commission. She was at the Ottawa County Planning Commission meeting last week representing herself, she said.
“I think wind energy will be part of the landscape like cell phone towers are now,” she said. ” I think we are going to have to change people’s idea of what is acceptable. Coal is cheap but it is not where we want to go so I think this study is important to show people what the impact of wind turbines could be on the area.”
Nordman said that while there have been other proposals to put wind turbines more than 10 miles off shore where they might not be seen, his study would be looking at wind turbines that would be placed approximately two miles off shore, on the coast as well as in various locations around Ottawa, Muskegon, and Allegan counties.
“We need to look at it all so that when we present our study results, they are complete and then people and companies will understand the impact of what is being proposed when they propose building wind turbines,” he said.
by Jeffrey Cunningham
7 July 2008
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