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A group of residents in northern Michigan’s Mason County are pushing for tougher restrictions on wind turbines – a move that could jeopordize a proposed $232 million Consumers Energy wind farm.
The Lake Winds Energy Park in Mason County includes the installation of 56 wind turbines, each about 500 feet tall. The wind farm, which would produce 100 megawatts of energy, is part of the Jackson-based utility’s ongoing efforts to grow its renewable energy sources.
But residents who oppose the wind farm say the turbines will be too close to neighboring homes, forcing residents to cope with high levels of noise, shadows produced by the wind turbines – often referred to as flicker – and a constant production of low-frequency energy.
“Low frequency can mess with your inner ear. It can cause nausea, vertigo and sleep depravation. The people that are most affected are children and older people,” said Cary Shindeldecker of Rivertown Township. “I’ve done too much reading and talked to too many medical people, and I’m convinced the medical field is not wrong.”
Shindeldecker is among the residents calling on the Mason County Planning Commission to amend its zoning ordinance so turbines would have to be at least 6,600 feet away from homes or other structures. Under current law, turbines must be set back from a structure twice the distance as the height of the turbine. So a 500-foot turbine would need to be at least 1,000 feet from homes or other structures.
Consumers’ proposal is in compliance with existing law.
“Our plan already fully conforms to the county ordinance and in many instances, it exceeds what is required by the county,” said Dennis Marvin, communications director for Consumer Energy’s new generation department.
Marvin said the utility has completed its application under the guidelines required by Mason County.
It’s unclear when the Planning Commission may make a decision.
Consumers Energy is expanding into the wind farm business because of a 2008 state law that requires utilities to increase their percentage of energy from renewable sources to 10 percent by 2015. Consumers is at about 5 percent now, and would increase to about 8 percent if the Mason County wind farm moves forward.
Consumers Energy spokesman Dan Bishop said the wind park would bring an additional $29 million in property tax revenue to taxing units in Mason County in the first 10 years of operation.
He also said a group of local citizens have formed an advocacy group and are in the process of creating a website.
“We’re pleased with the support we are getting from local environmentalists,” Bishop said.
But Shindeldecker and his group believe the cost of such a wind farm would be too high for area residents.
His group is working with Richard R. James, the principal consultant for E-Coustic Solutions, a Lansing firm that deals with studies on environmental and community noise.
The group’s request of 6,600 feet is based on the regulations of other countries that utilize wind energy, including Australia, Denmark, France, Germany and Netherlands, and the sound limit recommendations of the World Health Organization and audiologists.
“We didn’t just grab this figure out of the air,” said Shindeldecker, who owns an engineering firm. “We’re following hundreds and hundreds of reports and recommendations of medical and acoustical professionals.”
Shindeldecker feels Michigan’s setback and noise recommendations are far too relaxed, and just because Consumers is following the law doesn’t mean the company is acting responsibly.
“I’m not against wind energy and I’m not against Consumers. We are not the bad guys here. We just want our homes and our environment to be safe.”
— Zeke Jennings contributed to this report
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