A proposal by the nation’s largest energy company to erect more than 100 utility-scale wind turbines near the Lake Michigan shoreline in Benzie and Manistee counties holds the promise of an economic boost to the rural region, experts say, but many residents are not sold on the idea.
According to the Great Lakes Bulletin News Service, proponents of the Gail Windpower Project say that it will further the state’s efforts to become a leader in the nation’s emerging clean energy sector. In addition, landowners who agree to lease agreements that place windmills on their property could substantially supplement their income.
“We are majorly supportive of this,” said Pam Harris Kaiser, whose family owns property in Arcadia, which is in northern Manistee County, along the Lake Michigan coastline. “Northern Michigan needs this; America needs this. We need clean energy …and we say bring it on. It’s a total win-win.”
Others, however, are raising concerns, reports GLB News Service’s Glenn Puit.
Chuck Beale, a leader of a group called Citizens for Responsible Wind Development, which opposes the project, told about 300 people gathered at the Garden Theater in Frankfort last month that he’s urging a cautious approach due to some claims that wind turbines can harm human health. Others worry that the wind turbines will lower property values in the area, which is dependent on tourism.
“We are not trying to be exclusionary in any way,” said Beale, who owns a construction company in Frankfort. “I don’t think there is anybody here who doesn’t believe in renewable energy. It has to be done responsibly.”
Duke Energy, a Fortune 500 company based in Charlotte, N.C, is proposing the wind project. The utility has regular operations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. It just announced a merger with Progress Energy, making it the largest regulated utility in the country.
When the wind blows, Duke’s Gail Windpower Project could generate 200 megawatts of power – equal to the output of a small coal plant – without emitting pollution or greenhouse gas emissions. The 485-foot windmills would be placed in various locations within a 12,000- to 16,000-acre footprint largely consisting of orchards and farmland.
The company estimates that building the wind farm would create 150 construction jobs. But operating and maintaining it would produce only about 25 permanent, full-time positions. It would, Duke says, represent a $360 million investment that would generate about $1.6 million a year in additional property taxes within each county.
Duke representatives say that most area residents have been enthusiastic. The Gail Windpower Project Expo, a day-long open house at Benzie Central High School’s gymnasium, attracted close to 400 people, according to one company spokesman. Duke has already reached tentative wind royalty lease agreements with more than 100 landowners, representing about 10,000 acres.
Because wind royalty leases are private contracts, Duke does not disclosed how much it will pay landowners to allow wind turbines on their property. However, estimates by people who have seen leases signed by some local landowners indicate that they could earn between $12,000 and $15,000 per year, per turbine located on their property.
Duke also indicates that a “pooling” arrangement would provide income to others living within the project’s borders who, for various reasons – such as not enough wind or not enough space for the big machines on their property – cannot have windmills on their land.
The company proposes a minimum 1,000-foot setback from residences. But the two local groups opposing the project insist that setbacks of 1.25 miles are necessary – a zoning regulation that could make the project very difficult, if not impossible, to build.
Opponents are relying upon criticisms that wind turbines can make people sick, harm property values, cause fires, make shadows “flicker” across homes in a strobe-like effect, and create other problems. Environmentalists say all of those claims are unsubstantiated.
One farmer who has signed a lease with Duke, thereby agreeing to permit a turbine on his property to harvest wind power, is Jim March, of Arcadia Township, in Manistee County. March, who is the fourth generation of his family to operate the 263-acre beef-cattle farm, said it’s too early to know whether, how many, and where turbines would be erected on his property.
However, he said, if the project does come to fruition, the revenue will help him and his wife keep the farm in operation so their children can take it over in the coming decades.
“It would definitely pay the taxes and make some badly needed repairs that farm buildings are going without,” said March, adding that he supports a clean energy approach to power generation.
“That’s one of the things discussed around the dining room table from the very beginning,” he said. “On a nice clear day, we are hoping our grandchildren’s children will be breathing…good air…because of these wind turbines being put up.”