RIGA TWP., Mich. – Work continues on developing ordinances for Riga Township covering wind turbines, and a large crowd attended a special meeting Thursday of the Township Planning Commission.
Russ Lundberg from the Huron County Planning Commission was brought to Riga by Great Lakes LLC, which is affiliated with the John Deere Corp., to talk about his county’s work on developing a zoning ordinance for wind turbines.
Great Lakes LLC and JW Great Lakes, which is based in Cleveland and affiliated with a German company, have been securing leases on agricultural property for more than a year in Riga, Palmyra and Ogden townships. Both groups are looking to put up wind turbines as a source of renewable energy. In addition, Orisol Energy US Inc. is developing a wind turbine project in Ogden and Fairfield townships.
Lundberg’s presentation will be part of a longer presentation planned Jan. 27 at the Michigan Townships Association’s annual education conference and expo. He explained the process Huron County planners went through to develop their ordinance.
“The goal of the planning commission was to look at the county’s way of life,” he said. “We had a collaborative goal to preserve farm land and establish a manageable alternative energy land use policy.”
Wind turbines were set along property lines or at the edges of agricultural fields. Setting them along the lake shoreline would not work, he explained, because that land is designated for commercial and residential use and because the winds are too gusty to be harvested practically.
Riga planners are several months away from having an ordinance ready for public hearings, commission chairman Reg Karg said. Updated versions of the proposal are available for viewing on the township’s website, www.RigaTownship.com, he said.
The term of Vice Chairman Kevon Martis expires Dec. 31 and he will be leaving the board. The township board appointed Brian Bowman to the position Monday instead of Martis, who said he believes it is because he has been asking hard questions about the proposals.
In addition, a group of township residents are talking about starting a recall drive against some members of the township board. A recall drive is under way against four of the five board members in Ogden Township for not opposing the projects in that township, which does not have any zoning ordinances.
Martis and several other audience members questioned Lundberg about the Huron County ordinance and his appearance in Riga. Martis read letters from several Huron County residents who opposed the wind turbines and took issue with Lundberg’s assertion that the turbines help preserve farm land.
“With the number of turbines in Riga and with the ethanol plant, no single industry here will have taken more (agricultural) land out of production than the so-called green industries,” Martis said. “You are offering a cure for a disease that we don’t have.”
Michigan is one of 35 states with Renewable Portfolio Standards, which mandates that 10-percent of the state’s energy must be from renewable sources by 2015. Huron County is considered an ideal location for the turbines because of its sparse population.
“We aren’t going to build a lot of residential subdivisions. We know that,” Lundberg said. “I’m here to share with you how we approached this in Huron County.”
Huron is located at the tip of Michigan’s thumb and borders Lake Huron. The county has a population of about 32,000 and has two wind energy projects. Lundberg said Michigan Wind I was started in 2005 and Harvest Windfarm was begun two years later.
“We were identified as one of the best sites for wind in Michigan,” he said. “We helped create a more uniform standard that may become the state’s standard. Huron’s is more restrictive that the state’s (is now).”
At the July planning commission meeting, Doug Duimering, business development manager for John Deere, said Riga was chosen as a site for several reasons. One is the wind resource. Because of its flat, mostly agricultural land, Riga is windy, according to tests conducted during the past two years.
This area is close to the transmission grid, he said, which cuts the expense dramatically. The township is able to physically support the turbines and the equipment needed to erect the structures. As a result, John Deere has signed a 20-year agreement to supply power for Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison.
Duimering said the state does not offer subsidies for alternative energy projects. Tax abatements, usually for 12 years, are offered.
“There is no subsidy. This is a tax credit we get. We are putting our money on the line,” he said. “Eighty-percent of the cost is putting up the turbines. We have a 20 year contract (to sell energy). You don’t recover any money when you tear it down. The turbines will continue to run until they reach the end of their time.”
Lundberg also said it is too early to assess the impact the turbines will have on property values. He said planners just don’t know if the values declined because of the turbines or because of the shape of the economy.
The planning commission will not meet again until January.
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