December 16, 2010

Corporation seeks windmills

Leelanau Enterprise, 16 December 2010

The county Road Commission is encouraging the efforts of a group of local wind energy investors to study the feasibility and impact for locating up to two wind energy turbines on the commission’s Anderson Pit property in Leland Township.

But those efforts may be moot because the Leland Township Zoning Ordinance limits wind energy turbine towers on properties such as the Anderson Pit off of Schomberg Road, which are zoned Agriculture Residential.

Road commissioners voted 2-1 last week to “encourage” Leelanau Community Energy, a limited liability corporation, to proceed with a preliminary feasibility study that would include looking at township zoning, view shed infringement and other issues.

Commissioner John Popa was opposed, citing public perception.

“Our priority is to spend our money on roads. I would hate for the people to think we are using Road Commission funds for this feasibility study,” he said.

That won’t be the case, according to Tom Gallery of Northport, who represented LCE and is owner of North Wind Measurement. Gallery said LCE would pay for the study.

LCE president Doug McInnis said Monday the energy corporation plans to proceed slowly. It’s also hoping to place a wind tower on the county Government Center property.

“One of the first things we will look at is the local requirements. We will proceed gradually here,” Gallery said.

Gallery led the commission through a presentation of plans to place up to two wind turbine generator towers on a ridge to the west of the excavated area of Anderson Pit. The estimated cost for the project is $6 million, of which some $4,380,000 would be covered by federal government grants and tax credits. LCE would have to come up with $1,620,000 on its own to fund the project.

The biggest challenge may not be money. The Leland Township Zoning Ordinance allows wind turbine towers on property zoned Agriculture Residential, but limits tower height to 120 feet as measured from the top of the blades on the wind turbine to the ground. Township zoning administrator Tim Cypher said the ordinance could be amended, but no request has been received.

Another obstacle may be the Michigan Wind Energy Resource Zoning Board final report issued on Oct. 5, 2009, recommending that no wind turbine towers be placed within one-mile of the Lake Michigan shoreline. The Anderson pit property is located about seven-tenths of a mile from the shoreline. But Gallery said the recommendation is not a hard and fast rule. The pit is also locate near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which the final report sought to protect.

At the Road Commission meeting Gallery said the Anderson pit site is one of the best spots in the county for capturing consistent wind energy. A tower placed on the Anderson pit ridge west of the excavation site set at the 230 foot level would receive consistent wind speeds of 15-17 miles per hour, according to initial estimates.

Member Glen M. Noonan said he fully supports exploring the option and offered to make a $500 donation to the group to help fund the feasibility study. “It’s a benefit to everybody,” he said.

Chairman Lee A. Bowen said he, too, wants to explore the option, but shared some of Popa’s concerns. He was also uncertain of Leland Township residents’ support for placing tall wind turbine towers at the Anderson Pit property.

“I remember all the opposition from township residents when the county wanted to place its central communication tower there,” he said. The communication tower went up, but not until after a lengthy battle with local residents.

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