The Tribune reported a number of questions and concerns relating to county Proposals 1 & 2 in the Q&A article, “Wind district questions answered” in the Oct. 9 edition.
Since then, the paper’s received requests from both opponents and proponents to address additional issues of the wind energy debate.
While the following is a look from the proponents and opponents, voters should keep in mind the bottom line of Tuesday’s vote.
• The Nov. 2 ballot proposals are asking voters to confirm the creation of two wind districts, one in McKinley Township and another in portions of Bloomfield, Sigel and Rubicon townships.
• Voting ‘yes’ will not mean wind developments will be built there. Any development in those districts will need further approval during the site plan review process.
• Voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will not allow or ban turbines in other areas of the county’s zoning jurisdiction. If someone wanted to develop a wind farm in another part of the county, a wind district would have to be created first.
• Voters living outside of cities/villages in any of the 14 townships under county zoning can vote on the proposals. Voters living in cities and villages cannot vote on the proposals. Neither can voters in townships that are not under county zoning.
• The proposals do not change the county’s noise and setback standards.
Local wind energy opponents, including members of Residents Against Wind (RAW) in Huron County, believe the Nov. 2 vote is more than just a confirmation of the creation of two wind districts: They say it’s a chance for residents to take a stand against wind companies.
Concerns of a flood of turbines
In response to the Tribune’s Oct. 9 Q&A, Edward Korleski, an Elk Grove Village, Ill. resident who was born and raised in Kinde and is the spokesman for Residents Against Wind (RAW) in Huron County, took issue with some things officials said.
For example, while county officials noted a map RAW has distributed in the area showing thousands of wind turbines in Huron County is inaccurate in that the county’s amended guidelines for turbine setbacks and noise would not allow thousands of turbines to be cited in the area, Korleski said the map distributed is one produced by the state.
Huron County Building and Zoning Director Russ Lundberg previously clarified that map represents the maximum number of turbines estimated in an academic report of the Michigan Wind Energy Resource Zone Board. The estimated maximum number of turbines in that report, 2,824, is not a realistic number because the county’s ordinance would allow two to three turbines per square mile, which would limit the maximum number of turbines that could be cited in Huron County to about between 700 and 730.
In Korleski’s response, he notes, “ … Let’s be clear: A 140-mile transmission loop at a cost of $500 to $700 million is going to require as much turbine output as possible.”
He is referencing the transmission upgrade that currently is under way and is estimated to be completed in 2015. While officials previously have said the transmission upgrade was necessary, with or without future wind projects, because the grid currently is at capacity, Korleski and other wind opponents believe otherwise.
Noise expert backs RAW
Backing RAW’s belief that turbines can negatively impact the health of some people is Dr. Malcolm A. Swinbanks, a professional consultant engineer with a Ph.D. who has worked on a variety of problems related to unsteady dynamics, noise, vibration, shock and acoustics, and currently resides in Washington D.C. and has a home in Port Hope.
While wind turbine companies and proponents say newer turbines used today cannot be compared with older designs, Swinbanks believes recent improvements are minimal.
“The major improvements in wind turbine noise came about in the early 1990s, as the results of NASA’s research became more widely adopted,” he wrote. “Since then, there has been only comparatively modest further improvement. The problem is quite straightforward – wind turbines move massive amounts of air, which under certain circumstances can cause unpleasant low-frequency noise which makes life intolerable for people, particularly when they have to endure it 24/7 and cannot escape. Put quite simply, because of this effect, wind turbines and people do not mix.”
Swinbanks has an extensive background in the study of noise and its impact on people. He began his career as an applied mathematician, working on fluid dynamics and theoretical acoustics. He was supervised by Professor Sir James Lighthill of Cambridge University, who was one of the outstanding applied mathematicians of the last century, Swinbanks said.
Lighthill identified the specific mechanisms by which jet engines generate noise, and his work has formed the entire basis of aerodynamic sound generation research and development for the last 55 years, Swinbanks said.
“It has proven to be consistently accurate, and has resulted in the enormous strides in the reduction of aero engine noise, despite huge increases in size and power. His work now also applies to certain aspects of the noise of wind turbines, so this represents very familiar territory to me,” he said.
After competing his doctorate, in 1975 Swinbanks worked for a shipbuilding research company in Glasgow, where he was extensively involved in noise and vibration of ships and submarines. He also worked with Dr. H.G. Leventhall on the active control of low-frequency noise. Leventhall is now regarded by the wind-turbine industry as one of the foremost experts in wind-turbine noise and its effects, Swinbanks said.
In 1979, Swinbanks took the lead on a project to silence a land-based turbine compressor installation that was creating low-frequency noise, which caused a disturbance to residents living within a mile from the site.
“I succeeded in this task (the first time it had ever been achieved). In the process, I gained significant first-hand experience of low-frequency noise and its effects on people. I had been requested to try to solve the problem because it was acknowledged as causing an undisputed noise nuisance, 30 years ago, long before the advent of wind turbines,” he wrote.
While working on the site, Swinbanks had frequent visitors who wanted to observe the work.
“… It became very clear that their individual response to the noise could be highly variable. Some people considered that it was not obtrusive, while others complained of feeling ill and wanting to leave,” Swinbanks wrote. “This is exactly consistent with the reactions of people today who live in the neighborhood of wind turbines.”
Swinbanks then worked as an independent researcher and development consultant in acoustics and low-frequency noise and vibration for the aircraft and aero-engine industries, and the marine industries in particular. This work gave him very wide experience of practical noise issues, Swinbanks said.
His direct involvement with wind-turbine noise came in the late fall last year, when he attended the Michigan Public Services Commission meeting at Bad Axe.
“(I) immediately recognized, as extremely familiar, the problems that people at Ubly were experiencing from that wind farm,” Swinbanks wrote.
Swinbanks later visited the wind farms at Ubly and Elkton on numerous occasions, at day and night, under different wind conditions, and was able to confirm the two installations have very different noise characteristics.
“So it is hardly surprising that there are significantly differing reports coming from residents in the neighborhood of each,” he wrote
After reading last year’s minutes from the Huron County wind-turbine subcommittee meetings, Swinbanks said it is clear the subcommittee recognized these differences and suggested that this may be due to the surrounding geography and terrain. He agrees with this possibility, and says science backs up the theory.
“Twenty years ago, NASA identified why wind-turbines of modern configuration could generate unexpectedly excessive low-frequency noise in the presence of undulating terrain and obstructions.”
But, he said, science has not yet reached the stage where it can be confidently predicted whether a specific wind-farm will give rise to such problems.
“The effects are not simply related to the design of the wind-turbine itself – whether it is new or old – but relate to the entire interaction between the turbines and the surrounding wind environment, together with their proximity to other turbines,” he wrote.
“Unfortunately, the wind-developers tend to dismiss the NASA research as out-of-date and irrelevant, yet the problems that NASA first correctly identified continue to recur, as has been clearly demonstrated at Ubly,” he continued.
In response to the problems some residents experienced in Ubly, changes were made to the county’s wind ordinance – decreasing the maximum decibel limit from 50 dBA to 45 dBA, but Swinbanks does not believe the change will prevent future health problems of people living in proximity to turbines.
“… There is one particular ordinance, which defines the measurement of ambient background noise, which has the effect of over-riding the nominal levels of 45 dBA and 50 dBA respectively. If the ‘ambient background noise plus 5 dBA’ exceeds 5 dBA (or 50 dBA as appropriate) then the permitted levels for the wind turbine become this higher figure, i.e. ambient plus 5 dBA,” Swinbanks wrote.
He believes the method of measuring ambient noise proposed in the ordinance is not consistent with the conventional criterion that has been applied for years in the acoustics community, nor is it consistent with the definition which has been recommended in the Michigan State Guidelines. The conventional definition amounts to measuring the consistently lowest ambient noise levels that occur in any given hour, whereas the Huron County Ordinance measures the exact opposite, namely the highest transient levels, he said.
“The practical consequence of this is that the figure of 45 dBA can be easily over-ridden in wind-speeds as low as 5 mph, and the 50 dBA figure can be over-ridden at 8 mph. Permitted levels in average wind-speeds can become as high as 60 dBA or more,” Swinbanks wrote. “… When I worked myself with low-frequency noise, I would never remotely have considered using a dBA scale, since it is completely inappropriate. Nor would any other competent acoustician. But the consistent use of the dBA scale enables the real problems to be ignored.
Therefore, he said, in practice the wind turbines are unconstrained in their levels of noise generation.
“As a consequence, the ordinance provides no real protection at all, whether to participating or non-participating landowners,” Swinbanks wrote.
Regarding setbacks, Swinbanks said he agrees with the opinion of Dr. H.G. Leventhall, who was the principle acoustics author of “Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects. An Expert Panel Review.” The report was jointly published by the he American Wind Energy Association and the Canadian Wind Energy Association in 2009, and concludes that there are no direct health effects arising from the noise of wind turbines – a conclusion that wind turbine proponents have used to back their belief that turbines do not adversely impact human health.
Swinbanks said, however, wind turbine proponents ignore an important finding in the report. He said Leventhall and the other authors acknowledged low-frequency noise in particular causes sleep disturbance, which Swinbanks said leads to health problems.
Swinbanks said Leventhall has told him he believes turbines in the United States are sited too close to homes.
“Last month, I gave a presentation in Birmingham, UK, on low-frequency noise from wind-turbines, at which Dr. Leventhall was present. He subsequently congratulated me on my presentation. Then, without any prompting, he stated that the permitted wind turbine noise levels of 50 dBA in the United States are quite disgraceful, Swinbanks said.
Fears utility prices will increase, property values decrease
Regarding the cost of the transmission increase, which will be spread across the state since the entire state will benefit from the power generated in the Thumb, and the cost of utility bills, officials have noted utility bills already have increased, with or without additional projects in Huron County. That is because the state allowed utilities to already charge surcharges to fund alternative energy projects so they are able to produce at least 10 percent of their energy through renewable energy resources.
While Korleski acknowledged this as true, he said, “ … let’s be clear: If there were no wind turbine schemes or other green gambits, there would not be a utility bill increase, and the bill consumers are going to be hit with in the future makes the current rates look like chump change.’”
As for property values, Korleski said, “This is really a no brainer, if you could get a few local Realtors to talk, if there is anything to be certain of, property values will plummet as they have in all other cases.”
Local officials point to recent reports from the Huron County Equalization Office that show property values have not decreased because of the two area’s wind parks. Also, officials have referenced a 2009 report from a government-funded study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that found living near wind farms won’t noticeably lower property values.
Korleski doesn’t buy it.
“Anyone citing U.S. government studies/statements blatantly ignore how very often the Fed is simply wrong with such comments/predictions/studies,” He said.
Korleski said people reporting adversely affected property values are not doing so to “report bad news.”
“ … The people reporting/discussing this gambit have a lot at stake, and they and many innocents are going to be losers in this deal. If that were not the case, we would support it and smile and accept all the ‘good news.’ There is no good news in all of this,” he said.
Korleski also argues against the idea that wind parks will bring jobs and improve the Thumb’s economy. He said his heart is in the Thumb, and he would back wind energy if he believed it would benefit the area.
“If I felt this was going to help, I would have a pro-wind sign on my mother’s property right now,” he said.
Woes of wind energy’s cost, subsidies could shrink
Given America’s deficit, budget cuts will have to be made in the future and Korleski believes wind subsidies will become a target.
“ … Many voters are real angry. Come Nov. 2, there will be a change in power in Washington in any event. Cuts will have to take place. Let’s see, defense? Social security? Ah! How about for a scheme that is green-feel good-deeply misunderstood and misrepresented and highly subsidized,” he said. “Any clue where the purse strings are going to be tightened?”
Officials and wind proponents have disagreed that subsidies for wind energy will dry up in future years.
In a previous interview with the Tribune, Lundberg stated he believes those subsidies will actually increase because money currently going toward oil subsidies will in part be redirected to renewable sources of energy.
Korleski finds that belief ludicrous.
“In my opinion, that was an unfounded statement and a very dangerous one to be leading people into, he said.
Korleski challenged local officials and wind proponents to call him at (708) 431-1709.
While wind opponents seek the Nov. 2 vote as a chance for residents to take a stand against wind companies, proponents say it’s a chance for residents to take a stand for Huron County’s future.
Jobs, the environment, tax revenue and economic growth are the key points that have been stressed by local proponents of wind energy development in Huron County.
Proponents of wind energy development in Huron County created Citizens for Wind Energy (CWE), which is headed by a steering committee made up of individuals from all over the county.
“We have people on the committee, quite a few, that don’t have any financial gain other than what any other citizen is going to get. There’s a lot more at stake than what landowners with leases will get,” said CWE Chairman Scott Krohn in reference to the millions of dollars in tax revenue that wind developments bring to the county and local townships, schools and libraries.
“(But) it’s about a lot more than money to us,” added CWE Committee member Yvonne Bushey, noting the board members have lived their whole lives in Huron County, have family here and care about the area’s future.
In no way would the group want to jeopardize Huron County’s future, just like utility companies wouldn’t want to invest in a failing industry, Bushey said.
“Wind energy isn’t new – it’s been around for years. There are thousands and thousands of turbines across the world, because people support it. Wind energy is clean, it’s free (and) there is an unlimited supply as long as the sun heats the earth,” she said. “ … Investors are investing in them (wind developments) – it tells you it’s a dependable, efficient source of energy.”
Bushey said it is quick to install wind farms compared to building new or renovating old coal-fired plants, many of which are 40 to 60 years old, or building a nuclear plant, which takes up to 15 years.
And unlike the above counterparts, wind energy does not produce greenhouse gases or any harmful emissions or toxic solid waste, Bushey said.
“America’s wind power fleet of 35,000-plus megawatts will avoid an estimated 62 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, thus cleaner air to breath,” she said, noting the American Lung Association supports wind energy. “Wind energy will conserve approximately 20 billions of gallons of precious water annually that would otherwise be lost to evaporation from steam of cooling in conventional power plants.”
Citing 2008 statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Association, Bushey said a 2-megawatt turbine at 33 percent capacity will generate the same mount of electricity as 3,016 tons of coal from a coal plant.
“A train car of coal carries about 100 tons of coal annually, thus saving in mining and transportation costs to produce electrical power, less the environmental effects associated with mining and air pollution,” she said.
Both Bushey and Krohn said no one believes wind energy will take the place of fossil fuels.
“But wind can be part of the solution behind solving the problem (of our dependence on fossil fuels),” Bushey said.
“The people who say the only (ones who) gain are landowners, they need to open their eyes because it’s not true,” Krohn said.
He and Bushey discussed some key points Huron County commissioners and county Economic Development Corporation (EDC) officials highlighted during last week’s commissioners meeting.
Officials are encouraging the public to approve the two proposals because future developments will have significant impacts for local communities.
“Tax revenues to local taxing units will increase quite significantly over time and could have a major, positive impact on our communities,” reads a letter read during last week’s meeting. “The total tax increase is estimated to be in the millions of dollars, based on the turbines being discussed for our area.”
Over 15 years, one 2-megawatt turbine valued at $2.4 million and located in Bloomfield Township would bring in more than $480,000 in township, schools and library and Huron County tax revenue, according to 2010 millage rates from the Huron County Equalization Office. Of that, $123,000 would be township revenue, $208,000 would go to schools and library, and $149,000 would go to the county for county operating and other millages, including the Senior Citizens, Thumb Area Transportation and Veterans millages.
In Rubicon Township, a 2-megawatt turbine would net a total of $450,000 in local and county tax revenue over 15 years. Of that, $93,000 would go directly to the township, $208,000 to schools and library and $149,000 to the county.
One 2-megawatt turbine in Sigel Township would bring in $489,000 over 15 years. Of that, $132,000 would go to the township, $208,000 would go to schools and library, and $149,000 would go to the county.
In McKinley Township, one 2-megawatt turbine would bring in $478,000 over 15 years. Of that, $121,000 would go to the township, $208,000 would go to schools and library and $149,000 would go to the county.
CWE is encouraging people to approve the proposals because the entire area will benefit if voters confirm the creation of the two wind districts and the proposed developments move forward. Proponents of the proposals say those benefits include more than $100 million in new funding for schools and libraries, and more than $130 million in new funding for vital services, like police and fire protection, during the first 15 years of operation.
Previous estimates by the Huron County EDC project Huron County could receive as much as $450 million from industrial personal property taxes from wind turbines over the next 15 years. That’s providing there are 1,000 turbines in the county, which building officials have since noted is not a likely number, considering the county’s amended noise and setback standards limit the total number of turbines that could be cited in Huron County to about 700 to 730.
The jobs, economic growth
While local wind energy opponents have claimed wind turbines are the sole reason behind the area’s transmission line being upgraded, Krohn noted – as local and state officials previously have noted – the upgrade was necessary because the area’s grid currently is at capacity. While additional transmission is needed for new wind developments, it also is needed for other electricity generating facilities.
Krohn said the transmission upgrade will benefit residences and businesses, and facilitate other forms of renewable energy development in the future.
According to the 2009 Wind Technologies Market Report released in August by the U.S. Department of Energy, a growing percentage of wind turbine equipment is being sourced domestically, as both domestic and foreign companies seek to minimize transportation costs and currency risks by establishing local manufacturing capabilities. When presented as a fraction of total wind turbine equipment-related costs, the overall U.S. content is found to have increased from about 50 percent in 2008 to roughly 60 percent in 2009, according to the report.
The report found 2009 was another record-breaking year for U.S. wind power additions.
“The 10 gigawatts of capacity additions represent a $21 billion investment in new wind power projects, and enough capacity to power the equivalent of 2.4 million homes. Wind projects accounted for 39 percent of all new U.S. electric generating capacity in 2009, and wind energy is now able to deliver 2.5 percent of the nation’s electricity supply,” according to the report.
The report notes the market’s growth is spurring manufacturing investments in the U.S., as seven of the 10 wind turbine manufacturers with the largest share of the U.S. market in 2009 have manufacturing facilities in the U.S., and two of the remaining three have announced plans to open U.S. facilities in the future.
Krohn and Bushey said having wind developments is key to attracting companies that manufacture wind turbine components to the area.
“Give them time and vote in favor of Proposal 1 and 2, and jobs will come,” Krohn said.
Though it’s not a huge number, there have been jobs created by the area’s two existing wind parks, the CWE members said.
“Workers are needed for regular maintenance and yearly maintenance. Manufacturing jobs will be available with companies coming in to make towers, blades, gears, service parts for braking equipment etc.,” Bushey said, referencing the wind turbine factory that’s being built in Monroe and plans to hire 150 employees, according to the Monroe Evening News.
As projects develop, there will be more demand for technical workers to do maintenance on projects, Bushey said. Local training problems currently are under way, so local individuals will be qualified to work on future developments.
The focus, response to wind opponents
CWE’s focus in promoting the passage of county Proposals 1 & 2 has been on the environment, tax benefits, economic growth and job creation, though the two representatives did address some issues that have been brought up by opponents of the proposals.
Some of those issues, including noise and setback rules, have confused some voters into not realizing what the proposals are (which are a zoning reclassification in portions of McKinley, Bloomfield, Sigel and Rubicon townships from agriculture to agriculture with a wind overlay district), Krohn said.
He said CWE believes the county officials who crafted and then amended the ordinance did so in the best interest of the county. Krohn noted other parts of the county and state are modeling their wind energy ordinances after Huron County’s, which shows Huron County planners did their homework and crafted a good ordinance.
In response to claims that wind energy is a waste of taxpayer money because it receives billions of dollars in subsidies, proponents note all forms of energy receive subsidies, and the amount given to renewable energy is relatively minute compared to subsidies given to fossil fuels.
According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, $43 billion to $46 billion was given from governments to support renewable energy through tax credits, feed-in tarrifs and alternative energy credits, which is a far cry from the roughly $557 billion was spent to subsidize fossil fuels in 2008.
New Energy Finance reports the U.S. provided the most clean energy subsidies, which were $18.2 billion in 2009, according to Bloomberg’s July 29 report.
In regard to health concerns, Bushey said credible evidence shows there are no adverse health affects. For example, she said, the July 2010 Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council issued a report that concluded “there are no direct pathological effects from wind farms and that any potential impact on humans can be minimized by following existing planning guidelines.”
Findings from an expert panel review commissioned by the American and Canadian Wind Energy associations concluded sound from wind turbines does not pose a risk of hearing loss or any other adverse health effect in humans. Nor does subaudible, low frequency sound and infrasound from wind turbines, according to the report.
“Some people may be annoyed at the presence of sound from wind turbines. Annoyance is not a pathological entity,” the findings state. “A major concern about wind turbine sound is its fluctuating nature. Some may find this sound annoying, a reaction that depends primarily on personal characteristics as opposed to the intensity of the sound level.”
Both Krohn and Bushey noted problems reported in the Ubly area were limited to a minority of community members, as opposed to the majority who have not reported experiencing negative affects because of wind turbines.
Regarding claims that commercial scale wind farms adversely affect nearby property values, Bushey and Krohn said credible studies show that is not the case. A 2009 study by the U.S. Department Of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found living near wind farms does not noticeably lower property values.
The CWE members also referenced a recent Huron County Equalization report that found the property values of homes near the area’s two existing wind farms have not suffered because of turbines. Equalization officials previously reported overall property values increased last year, primarily because of increased values in agricultural lands.
Bushey and Krohn also noted there are homes that have been built and/or sold near the wind farms.
In regard to concerns that wind turbines are ugly industrial machines, Bushey said she thinks, “they’re like beautiful, graceful ballerina ladies dancing quietly in the breeze to produce clean energy,” and she added she’s heard others who live near turbines, and also tourists, say positive things about the way the turbines look.
Bushey and Krohn said CWE’s membership is growing daily, with more than 1,000 green signs encouraging people vote “yes” on the two proposals already in various yards around the county.
“The momentum we’re seeing out there is the citizens of Huron County realize the benefits we’re going to get and they’re excited about it,” Krohn said, noting the group recently had to order about 300 more signs to keep up with demand.
The names and contact information for CWE’s board members is on the group’s website, http://citizensforwindenergy.com, which also has a slew of information about wind energy.
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