The county’s second commercial windmill project – and its first in 15 years – is planned in Solon Township.
However, Solon lacks zoning to address the project.
Steve Smiley of Heron Wind Systems would like to place three, 400-foot windmills on the site of an abandoned gravel pit off Harry’s Road. The 160-acre property, which Smiley is leasing, is owned by Keith and Wes Parker.
The Parker family farming operation would be disturbed very little by the windmills, Smiley said.
“It’s very preliminary at this point,” said Smiley, who is recognized regionally for his involvement in establishing the wind turbine near the intersection of Bugai Road and M-72. “I’d rather you didn’t write anything yet.”
Smiley appeared before township planners last month to discuss his plans to place windmills in Section 35 along M-72 in the southeast corner of the township. The 3-blade structures would be larger than the Traverse City Light & Power windmill in nearby Elmwood Township, and as such would required to be lit, according to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.
Smiley said the windmills are expected to generate about 3 million kilowatt hours annually, based on wind studies conducted on the site. Potential purchasers of power include Traverse City Light & Power and other smaller operations.
“I won’t be sure until a connectivity study is done,” Smiley said. “We have the right to sell the power into the grid.”
Existing power lines from M-72 along Lautner Road along with smaller lines along Harry’s Road would be used to transfer the new power.
Most residences are 1,000 feet away, including a church.
Township officials had plenty of questions for Smiley, according to minutes of the meeting. Included were, “Would any more wind turbines be built on the property in the future?” And, “Would the noise level be monitored?”
Smiley said no more windmills could be added to the site due to “spacing constraints”. In addition, the noise level can be monitored.
The issues could be addressed by planners with an amendment to the ordinance or a separate, stand alone ordinance.
Solon zoning administrator Tim Cypher confirmed Tuesday the Planning Commission is in the process of writing regulations that could apply to commercial wind operations.
“We’re looking at ordinances from Green Lake Township (in Grand Traverse County) and Huron County,” he said.
Locally, three townships have established guidelines for commercial wind generation: Centerville, Cleveland and Elmwood.
Centerville planners adopted a 19-page ordinance in August 2010 that allows commercial wind energy systems as a special use in the Agricultural district. In addition to a 199-foot maximum height restriction, the ordinance addresses setbacks from adjacent properties, wetlands and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore; the monitoring of “bird kill”; noise levels; shadow flicker and blade glint. It also establishes an escrow account for the removal of the turbines.
Smiley said the fine points of his plan will not be completed until after the ordinance is adopted. Meanwhile, time is of great importance as there are some federal economic packages in Congress now for which Smiley could qualify if ground is broken for the project before the end of the year.
It’s been 15 years since the county’s first commercial windmill was placed at Bugai and M-72. The $700,000 cost seemed hefty at the time; the turbine has since generated electricity worth more than $1 million.
“I would say it came in below expectations,” Smiley said, adding the current site was an alternative to another proposed south of M-72 in Long Lake Township. “That wasn’t our first choice.”
Smiley said he was hopeful that support for wind energy shared by 80 to 90 percent of the population that his project will be accepted by the community.
“Of some of the alternatives, windmills have the least impact,” he said.
Township Supervisor and Parker neighbor Jim Lautner said he has “no problem” with construction of wind towers in the Agricultural district.
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