Monday’s arctic air didn’t quell heated rhetoric as the Saugatuck Township Planning Commission again mulled and tabled establishing windmill standards.
“This is not our initiative,” chair Larry Edris told about 20 people at the commission’s second public hearing on the subject. “State law means wind energy turbines (WETs) will be coming here.
“Our question is, ‘Will the township establish procedures regarding sites, setbacks, noise, vibrations, quantity and more or have standards set for us?’”
Citizen Vicki Lepior didn’t buy it. “They want to put one of these turbines in my back yard,” she said. “They are noisy, dangerous and an eyesore.
“We don’t want them here!”
Michigan P.A. 295 of 2008, called the “clean energy act,” requires 10 percent of utilities’ energy production to be renewable by 2015 and creates incentives to study wind as an option.
It is one thing to want clean energy, critics noted, another to have giant towers creating noise, shadow flicker, vibrations and more nearby you.
When a 2009 report by the Michigan Wind Energy Resource Zone Board found Allegan County one of the top four onshore areas for wind-energy potential, many landowners saw an opportunity to lease or sell space for towers. Others, in particular neighbors of proposed WETs, have been less enthused.
The Holland Board of Public Works is eyeing sites in Saugatuck, Ganges and other nearby townships to host WETs.
The utility is paying SWMI Wind Energy Development of Grandville $125,000 for a one-year option to buy or lease easements it has with landowners and another $375,000 to determine whether the sites are useful for wind energy.
At the planning commission’s first public hearing Aug. 23, members discussed an ordinance, based on an Ottawa County model, allowing maximum tower heights of 300 feet (as adopted in neighboring Laketown Township) unless applicants demonstrated a need to go higher, with setbacks and other rules applying.
“That height limit is too low,” said SWMI representative Zach Bossenbrock. “Away from the shoreline (where his firm is looking) the wind is not as strong. Towers up to 500 feet are more feasible for commercial power generation.”
The township’s rewritten sample ordinance, discussed Monday, allows towers to 500 feet. Large-scale operations would be allowed through special approval use only in A-1 (Agricultural) and I-1 (Industrial) districts. By and large, these would fall in the southeast portion of the township, with 40-or-more-acre parcels large enough to meet setback requirements.
It requires lot-line setbacks of 1.25 times the tower height, 1,000 feet from occupied buildings and 400 feet from roads and utility lines, plus standards to minimize vibrations, noise and shadow flicker caused by towers.
The complete zoning text amendment, which runs 23 printed pages, may be reviewed at the township hall.
“Noise impacts could wind up trumping others,” contract planner Mark Sisson told the commission. “Our proposed ordinance caps it at 5 decibels above ambient noise from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and no greater than ambient noise between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.”
“That’s a tough standard,” said Holland BPW representative Mark Nally. “We’ll need studies. I don’t know if we can meet it.”
Commission members wanted to know where noise would be measured, what studies cost and who (complaining neighbors or turbine owners) would pay for first studies and possible follow-ups.
Most felt measures might best be taken at lot lines directly between the turbine and neighbor residence, that first-study costs be allayed by owner escrows and subsequent ones by complaining neighbors if noise levels proved not in violation.
“The Holland BPW generates energy for Holland,” Lepior said. “Yet Saugatuck Township residents get the noise and potential hazards.
“How will they benefit us?” Lepior asked. “Have you researched the negatives?”
“There are negatives,” said Edris. “That’s why we’re trying to put in an ordinance to protect the public from them.
“As to the Holland BPW, they’re responding to state law, seeking wind energy from identified best sources near them,” he continued. “Saugatuck Township receives energy, that originates elsewhere, from a grid. That is common.”
“I hear the best place for wind is five miles out in Lake Michigan,” Lepior said.
“That’s outside our jurisdiction,” said Edris. “We can only deal with what we have here.”
“Could you just say the township will not allow this use?” asked citizen John Renaldi.
“We can, but we might be sued and would probably lose in court,” said Edris.
“I don’t trust energy firms to conduct and report their own noise studies,” said Renaldi.
“These turbines cost $3 million to $4 million each to put up,” replied Nally. “No one’s going to risk that much money on one that could be found faulty or in violation and would have to be taken down.
“I grew up five miles from here,” he continued. “I’m not going to make misrepresentations to people I grew up with and know, then have egg thrown on my face in court.
“Is wind better in Lake Michigan? Yes, but there are problems with offshore turbines too.
“We’ve not tried to rush this: here or in Ganges and neighbor townships. I think you’re doing the right thing by establishing a framework before someone comes and just says, ‘We’re going to put in a wind turbine,’” Nally said.
The commission, which has discussed WETs for close to a year now, tabled action, asking Sisson to work with Nally to determine costs of noise measurements, examine who pays if an owner goes out of business or a turbine must be torn down and other considerations.
The commission expects to resume discussions at its next meeting Feb. 28.
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