Changes being considered for the Mason County Zoning Ordinance could prove “problematic” for Consumers Energy and could discourage wind energy developers from considering Mason County for their projects, Consumers Energy representatives said this morning.
The Mason County Planning Commission has been considering an amendment to the zoning ordinance after a group of residents requested more stringent guidelines for wind turbines.
Almost two weeks ago planning commissioners began making recommendations on possible changes, including allowing no shadow flicker at the property line of unpooled parcels (those who haven’t signed agreements with the developer) and lowering the amount of noise allowed by turbines to 45 decibels during the day and 40 decibels at night.
The commission is set to continue reviewing possible changes when it meets at 6:30 tonight at the Mason-Lake ISD building.
Any recommendations for changes will go go to a consultant for review.
Consumers Energy spokesman Dennis Marvin said the company has had a chance to analyze the first group of recommendations that were made March 21.
“When you look at what’s being proposed, it’s problematic for Consumers Energy, it’s problematic for any developer who would look to develop a project,” Marvin said.
Marvin said if the standard for shadow flicker is set for zero hours at the property line of an unpooled parcel in Mason County, it would be unprecedented.
“There isn’t an entity out there where such a stringent parameter has been requested,” he said.
The industry standard is 30 hours or less of shadow flicker per year, Marvin said, which was what the company had in mind while designing the project.
“Zero at the property line is definitely a problem for any wind developer,” Marvin said. “We would urge the county to take another look at that and look at setting the standard at the residences versus the property line.”
The Lake Winds Energy Park plan doesn’t allow for movement of any turbines, he said. While four alternate sites are included, those sites are to be used only if any problems are encountered during construction of another turbine.
“When you have zero shadow flicker on the project, every site is problematic,” Marvin said.
The current Mason County Zoning Ordinance sets a sound level of 55 decibels, and Consumers Energy has proposed noise coming from the turbines at closer to 45 decibels.
“We believe that 45 decibels is really a very good sound level,” Marvin said.
“45 is a phenomenal number to achieve when you look at what’s out there around the country.”
Marvin said Consumers Energy is already achieving levels well below what is required in Mason County’s current ordinance.
“We think that what they’ve set up is very restrictive,” he said.
Marvin said if when looking at other areas in the state where wind development has occurred, the zoning ordinances are more in line with what Mason County currently has.
For example, Gratiot County, located in central Michigan, has similar zoning regulations and there are several wind projects scheduled to go online there this year, with another project being developed. Leelanau County’s Centerville Township, on the other hand, has a zoning ordinance that allows 35 decibels during day hours, and during the night levels are allowed to be 3 decibels above the ambient noise at night, Marvin said, and that there are no wind projects being considered for the township.
Marvin said, if Mason County’s ordinance were as restrictive as the proposed amendments 3-and-a-half or four years ago when Consumers began the process, “We would have been challenged to look at Mason County to develop a project.”
Consumers Energy said it could probably deal with some of the more non-operational amendment recommendations, including the complaint process and more studies on birds.
“Conceptually, these kinds of non-operational amendments are ones that we or any developer could probably deal with from a conceptual standpoint,” Marvin said.
Marvin said Consumers Energy will continue to monitor potential changes to the zoning ordinance the planning commission recommends.
“Then assuming the planning commission moves forward in this direction, to have a public hearing, then we will restate our case, assuming that we’re allocated time to do so at the public hearing, bringing in our experts to offer more definitive insight as far as what the implications are for the proposed text amendments,” Marvin said.
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