The war over wind: Reading residents question township board over wind energy ordinance
Credit: By Michael Mayday, The Collegian, www.hillsdalecollegian.com 24 February 2011 ~~
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Nearly 200 Reading residents flooded Owens High School auditorium last Monday in order to discuss a possible wind energy project affecting Reading Township. At the center of contention was an ordinance passed last December, which set the township standards for wind energy development.
The current ordinance was passed by the Reading Township Board after receiving recommendations from the Reading Planning Commission. But the Township Board had some recommendations eased, making it easier for wind turbines to be built and for residents to be outraged – particularly over possible health, such as sound from the turbines and property value issues.
Township attorney Kevin Shirk, who drafted the ordinance passed by the Reading Township Board, said the ordinance is one of the strictest in Michigan.
Shirk said he was concerned over the Planning Commission’s initial article for sound level standards, which would have required a developer to make a background sound check from every property in the township – a standard he believed to be unenforceable.
“If a developer can prove an ordinance is unenforceable,” Shirk said. “That ordinance will fall.”
Instead, Shirk followed the Township Board’s instructions to make the ordinance feasible while following the planning commission’s recommendations as closely as possible.
Gretchen Oberdick, secretary for the Reading Planning Commission said the commission’s recommendations should’ve been stronger. “If we could, I would like a do-over for this ordinance.”
The current ordinance states that any sound emitted from a turbine cannot exceed 45 decibels at any participating property line. Nor can it exceed 40 decibels at the property line of any non-participating property. The state of Michigan suggests sound levels for wind turbine districts should not exceed 50 decibels. By comparison, a typical conversation between two people three feet apart is 60 to 70 decibels.
“All the data driven facts that we’ve amassed with the Wind Energy Association says 45 decibels are well within comfort levels of wind farms,” Duke Energy spokesman Greg Efthimiou said.
Milton R. Howard, vice president of Wind Energy, a part of Duke Energy, had a letter circulated during the town hall meeting that said “an anti-wind energy group has been circulating misinformation… about the wind energy industry.”
“These individuals,” Howard wrote in a letter to the residents of Reading, “who may or may not be local residents, appear to be perpetuating myths about health effects form wind turbines, property value impacts, tax revenues and other topics.”
Lee Tonnies, ’75 Hillsdale alumnus, is the voice behind savereading.org, a website opposing wind turbines in Reading. Tonnies said she hasn’t spread misinformation, and she’s not against wind energy. She said she believes Reading doesn’t have enough space for turbines to safely operate. She also said a study argued the announcement of turbines can drop property value up to 40 percent.
Efthimiou said the United States Department of Energy conducted a study finding no correlation between the presence of wind farms and loss in property value. He said a study done by the state of Michigan finds Reading to have enough resources for commercial wind energy, and that Duke Energy has been measuring wind power and direction for two years – taking into account height, different seasons and different times of the day.
The turbines, built by Duke Energy, may be spread out in a 12,000 acre area and provide up to 100 megawatts of energy to customers. Though Duke Energy has yet to announce the number of turbines to be built, Efthimiou said a typical utility-scale turbine provides anywhere between 1.5 to 2.3 megawatts. The current township overlay surrounds the city of Reading and borders Camden, Cambria and Allen Townships.
Currently, the township has a six-month moratorium on wind energy development, and will seek to review the ordinance. Duke Energy plans to hold an informational open house Saturday, March 12 in Reynolds Elementary School gymnasium in Reading.
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