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Wind turbine noise levels debated in Riga

RIGA TWP., Mich. – A packed Riga Community Hall watched dueling presentations on wind turbine noise levels Tuesday evening. The audience then listened as both experts poked holes in each others arguments.

Peter Guldberg, the founder of Tech Environ­mental of Waltham, Mass., presented data on behalf of Great Lakes Wind LLC, and Richard James of E-Coustic Solutions of Okemos made the counterargument for the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition. Great Lakes Wind is one of three companies looking to site wind turbines in Lenawee County, and the IICC is opposing the projects.

Guldberg said his company had measured noise levels at two properties in Riga Township on Nov. 29. He explained that a turbine would not operate until the wind was 10 mph at the hub level, which is at the height of the blades. The turbine reaches the maximum sound level at 23 mph, which is usually when surface winds are between 3 and 17 mph, he said.

“The maximum sound levels are comparable to current sound levels in Riga Township,” Guldberg said. “Most of the sound is generated by (vehicle) traffic.”

The sound level of the turbines is in the mid-range of our hearing, Guldberg said. That is the same range as much of the natural background sound in a rural site.

James took issue with that. He said much of the opposition is from the kind of noise the machines generate.

“When turbines turn, you will have a reasonably steady noise,” he said. “People react to wind turbine noise differently. They can get annoyed by the blade swish, not because it’s loud, it is just continuous and regular.”

Both men used technical and scientific data to illustrate their points. Protecting the public from such factors as noise levels, flicker effects and other concerns is paramount in drawing up the zoning plan, township officials have said throughout the process.

“The burden should be on the wind industry to prove safety. That shouldn’t be on citizens to do that,” James said.

The presentation was part of the on-going work by the Riga Township Planning Commission to develop a zoning ordinance covering wind turbines. The commission and the township board hosted the joint session Tuesday.

Reg Karg, planning commission chairman, said the board is a long way from completing work on such an ordinance. Work began almost a year ago when leases were being signed by wind energy concerns to put up the 500-foot tall turbines that would generate electricity and sell it to Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison.

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.

Josh Nolan, one of the founders of the IICC, presented an ordinance that he said would protect residents. The proposal, he said, includes a series of safety nets.

“There is a tremendous amount of controversy because of the noise,” he said. “There is a need for clear, measurable standards.”

Guldberg said the proposal precludes siting any turbines in the township.

“This would absolutely prohibit any wind turbines in southern Michigan and Riga Township,” he said. “It is a very clear attempt to prevent wind development.”

Once the planning commission has approved a zoning ordinance, the issue will go to the township board for public hearings and action. The rules can spell out acceptable noise levels, height and other factors.

When the effort began in May 2010, Riga officials hoped to have something in place within a year. Karg said Tuesday he has no idea when anything will be decided.