By this time next year, motorists on U.S. 127 will see the first of Gratiot County’s wind farms.
Other travelers on M-46 just outside of Breckenridge will see wind turbines no matter where they look.
“It’ll be 360 degrees,” said Greater Gratiot Development President Don Schurr.
That wind farm is the first phase of Invenergy’s project of installing at least 125 turbines, with a second phase also planned.
It is the first of three companies with plans for wind farms.
Two other companies, Beebe Community Wind Farms in partnership with Nordex, a German company with much wind turbine experience, is second in line and Trade Energy is the third.
Invenergy has signed a contract with DTE to sell the power from the first phase of its project. Now all three companies are scrambling to sell the rest.
“It’s possible we could have three wind farms,” Schurr said.
The county may generate a lot of interest for a while, Schurr said, as it will have the largest wind farm in the state with just Invenergy’s Phase 1.
Visitors are expected.
“It will make our area unique,” Schurr said.
But after a year or two, the interest is expected to die out as the wind farms “just become part of the landscape,” he said.
In March, work will begin in earnest. Road work will be the first part of the project, and the roads, culverts and corners will be strengthened, built up and improved.
Then, the base of each turbine will have to be built. Each base needs 500 yards of concrete and 50,000 pounds of steel.
Lots of materials and equipment will be coming through the county. Local companies will be providing the gravel and sand and excavation, Schurr said by way of example.
All this activity “will be noticeable,” he said. “Especially if you live in Bethany, Wheeler, Emerson and Lafayette townships, (that make up the first phase of Invenergy’s project.) St. Louis will see it too.”
More than 150 construction workers will be employed, not all at the same time and some of them will be living here, he said.
In the late summer and early fall, the turbines will arrive – in pieces. They will likely be delivered to each particular site and be assembled there as the turbine sections are too big to load and unload. Two cranes will be needed for each site.
It’s expected that Invenergy’s first phase will become operational by the end of this year. At that time, about 15 employees will be needed to maintain the farm.
“They’re looking to build a facility (in or around Breckenridge,)” Schurr said.
Because the Beebe project is planning on installing bigger but fewer turbines at farther spaced intervals, that company may not need quite so many employees, he said.
All the companies are hurrying their projects along as the turbines have to be in service by 2012 in order to receive federal tax credits.
A few weeks ago, Schurr said, he received a call from the American Planning Commission in Washington, D.C.
“They wanted to do an article on how it was possible to do this in an apparently smooth manner,” he said.
It wasn’t all smooth, it didn’t happen overnight and, “It did not drop on us out of the sky.” Schurr said. “It was a process.”
It all began in 1991 with the first countywide strategic planning.
Local residents and officials were determined to form a countywide Chamber of Commerce and a countywide brownfield redevelopment authority, as two examples that were created.
“It was to do things better, cooperatively, and utilize all our assets,” Schurr said.
In 2007, Alma, St. Louis and Pine River Township formed an agreement on infrastructure and annexation. Those three entities decided to cooperate on their master plans.
Other municipalities heard about it and they wanted to join.
At that time, Schurr said, he knew there was interest in placing wind turbines in Gratiot. And he suggested that one of the things to work on was one set of wind farm ordinances and make it as business friendly as possible.
Elsewhere, companies have to travel from township to city to village and attempt to meet each set of differing rules and regulations, because wind farms will cross boundaries.
That master plan with uniform ordinances came together in 2009.
It was known that Gratiot County had stronger winds; not as good, Schurr said, as Michigan’s “west coast” or the Thumb, but a bit stronger than average.
“We had good rules, reasonable wind and a place to plug it in,” he said.
The county has three places to join with utility lines.
All the companies were appreciative of Gratiot’s efforts.
In his travels around the world and in Europe, Schurr said he visited several wind farms.
“(The turbines) make a wooshing sound,” he said. “Different sizes and different types may make different sounds. But from 1,000 feet away, it hardly makes any noise.”
He said he asked one farmer if they made noise.
“Yep,” he told Schurr. “And I love it.”
He saw another turbine right beside a hog barn and asked the farmer if there were problems with animals.
“They don’t bother the animals,” the farmer told Schurr.
The thing that strikes Schurr, is in its master plan, county residents said they wanted to preserve agriculture and open spaces, while at the same time bring economic opportunity to the community.
“There’s not much else to do with that land but farm,” he said. “And it brings money to the community – to the landowners and in taxes. It’s win win. Just what the people said they wanted.”
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