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Great Lakes Wind representatives discuss turbines at meeting

BLISSFIELD, Mich. – Experts from Great Lakes Wind LLC, a partner in the wind turbine projects being sought in Lenawee County, answered questions and attempted to ease fears about wind turbines at a seminar Monday in Blissfield. The company is one of three seeking to locate wind turbines in four Lenawee County townships: Riga, Ogden, Palmyra and Fairfield.

The company brought in experts to provide an overview and to answer questions about land leases, farmland preservation and restoration, the impact of sound from wind turbines and other concerns.

Great Lakes Wind is affiliated with Exelon Wind, a division of Exelon Power. Other companies looking at southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio as sites for wind turbines are Orisol Energy US, Inc. of Ann Arbor and Juwi Wind Corp., based in Cleveland.

The Riga Township Planning Commission is working on a zoning ordinance regulating the size and operation of wind turbines. The Fairfield Township Board put a one-year moratorium on siting wind turbines in the township. Ogden Township has no zoning regulations.

The seminar set up stations in the Blissfield American Legion, and the public could walk from station to station and ask questions of officials. Larry Gould, president of Great Lakes Wind LLC, said the stations put people more at ease than if they were seated and listening to speakers.

One of the people brought in was Mark Thayer, an economist at San Diego State University and a former senior economist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Thayer co-authored a 2009 report about wind turbines and property values that was underwritten by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The report took three years to complete. The study looked at homes in 24 sites in nine states, Thayer said.

“We found no evidence that (wind turbines) adversely affected property values,” he said. “This was an independent study. We looked at 6,200 homes over three years. We looked at actual sales figures, not government assessments or real estate appraisals.”

Peter Guldberg, a sound expert from Tech Environmental in Waltham, Mass., said the Blissfield project would be a 45-turbine wind farm with a maximum sound level of 45 decibels, comparable to that found at residences and other inhabited structures such as libraries, churches and other public buildings.

“The World Health Organization set the noise level. This is only at the maximum level,” he said. “This allows people to sleep at night with their windows open.”

The average sound levels shown on a graph provided by the company showed the noise level to be equal to a library or an empty theater. By contrast, a car passing by 25 feet away at 50 miles per hour measures 75 decibels.

Questions on setback distances and the flicker effect were handled by Tony Urban from Great Lakes Wind. Turbines would be sited 1,320 feet from inhabited structures, he said. That is 320 feet more than the state of Michigan suggests. The flicker effect, he said, would be limited to 30 hours per year and would occur only when shadows are longest, at sunrise and sunset.

In the first hour of the seminar, more than 80 people had come through. Several visitors said they were impressed by the event.

“I’ve been hearing so much disinformation. I came here tonight and this affirmed to me that this company has the best interests of the public in mind,” said Kevin DeCatur of Ogden Township. “From my perspective, this is rich in potential to benefit everybody. If they want, they can put one in my backyard.”

Vance Jacobs of Morenci said he was living in California when the giant wind turbines were erected in the 1960s.

“I supported it then and I support it now,” he said. “People have got to realize we need to become self-sufficient in energy production and this is a good place to start.”

The economic benefits of the project were discussed by Stanley “Skip” Pruss, former director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. Pruss said renewable energy has great potential.

“This is a $10 billion industry that is ideally suited for Michigan. We have a great number of high-tech people and engineers in this state,” he said. “Michigan is the No. 1 state in the nation in terms of renewable energy production. We have the ability to build better turbines of higher quality with lower costs.”

According to Great Lakes Wind, the proposed Blissfield Wind Energy Project would generate 81 megawatts of energy, which could power 20,000 households. In addition, the project will mean an estimated 150 to 200 construction jobs, and once the wind turbines began to operate, six to eight full-time jobs will be created, the company said.

During its first 20 years of existence, the project would generate more than $18 million in local property taxes collected by Lenawee County; Ogden, Palmyra and Riga townships; and the local school district, according to the company. Lease payments would put an additional $20 million into the pockets of landowners and residents. In January, Gould said residents living within a half mile of a turbine are guaranteed a minimum annual payment starting at $1,500.

Those opposed to the turbines hosted a seminar Feb. 5 and are backing several attempts at recalling township elected officials on the issue. Also last month, the Fairfield Township Zoning Board of Appeals ordered Orisol Energy US Inc. to take down a 262-foot tall meteorological tower the company had erected.

Information presented at the seminar is available at the Great Lakes Wind website. The website for the proposed Blissfield-area project is www.greatlakeswind.net.