John Kreinbrink, an engineer who said he has worked on sour gas lines, contended that the potential for a puncture exists and that the lines could be damaged by vibrations from the shock if a windmill were to fall so close as allowed by the current setbacks on three DTE natural gas lines and one Omimex sour gas line.
One of the concerns raised during the run up to the Mason County Planning Commission’s approval of a special use permit for Consumers Energy’s proposed Lake Winds Energy Park was the seeming lack of awareness of the utility of sour and natural gas lines running through the wind park planned for Riverton and Summit townships.
These gas lines cross the county along rights of way used also by Consumers Energy, but the utility seemed surprised when critics of the proposed wind park pointed out the absence of the gas lines on Consumers’ wind park site maps.
Omimex Energy owns the sour gas lines and DTE the sweet gas lines.
Typically, utility concerns are ironed out in the early stages of planning for projects potentially affecting one another’s lines. The companies typically discuss with one another ways to work out logistics so one’s development doesn’t interfere with existing utility infrastructure, but that didn’t happen in the case of the Lake Winds Energy Park.
In subsequent months, conversations have taken place concerning placements of several of the turbines in relation to the gas lines.
Of concern, is how far away – or close – turbines are to the gas lines. Sour gas – which contains potentially deadly hydrogen sulfide – has to be “sweetened” before it can be used. The Omimex line transports sour gas to a sweetening plant in Manistee County.
The Vestas turbines Consumers plans to use are 476 feet tall to the tip of the 150-foot blades. The nacelle – the unit containing the generator and other equipment and where the blades connect to the tower – stands at 95 meters or about 312 feet.
Prior states in the e-mail that he would like the setback from the gas lines to be “at least a windmill height” and, he told the Daily News last week, he’d prefer it be at least 10 percent more so there could be no chance for the blades to hit the sour gas lines if a tower falls.
Schneider contends that engineering shows that if a windmill were to fall to the ground, the fiberglass blades could not penetrate the ground more than 4 feet, and thus could not damage the sour gas lines.
Prior counters if the turbines are set back beyond a tower’s height, he wouldn’t have to worry if the engineering is correct.
“I feel Consumers should move them to maximum setbacks that they can beyond the 476 feet since our pipeline contains 900 psi (pounds per square inch) of sour gas,” Prior wrote in an e-mail to the DTE Energy that he cc’ed to Mary Reilly, Mason County zoning director. The Citizens Alliance for Responsible Renewable Energy obtained a copy of the correspondence through a Freedom of Information Act request given to Reilly. “If Consumers has to reapply to the FAA, I would rather have them do that than sacrifice the potential safety of our public and our companies’ potential liability than expecting us to agree to lesser setback. If Consumer had done their homework ahead of time, this all could have been avoided.”
Consumers moved one turbine so it presents no concerns to Omimex, yet a second turbine, number 23, moved 95 feet back still is closer to the sour gas line than Prior said he’d like. The turbine is set back 376 feet from the Omimex line. Schneider said at that distance, the wind turbine is far enough away so the nacelle, which is the heaviest part of windmill, can’t fall on it and is situated in such a way that the blades can’t hit the line either. He compared the situation to a person being so close to a horse, that it can’t kick the person with its hoof because the person is too close.
CARRE’s members are using Omimex’s statements in the e-mail as one of the reasons the group wants the Mason County Zoning Board of Appeals to overturn the planning commission’s approval of the special land use permit for Lake Winds Energy Park.
At last week’s meeting, several people spoke about the matter. John Kreinbrink, an engineer who said he has worked on sour gas lines, contended that the potential for a puncture exists and that the lines could be damaged by vibrations from the shock if a windmill were to fall so close as allowed by the current setbacks on three DTE natural gas lines and one Omimex sour gas line.
“That’s a risk that had been ignored by the planning commission,” he said. “It’s something that can be detrimental to the general welfare.”
Evelyn Bergaila, long a critic of the wind park as designed, has spent much of the past year researching issues surrounding it as they have come up. She criticized the setbacks from the gas lines saying Consumers doesn’t want to move them more than the 1 foot vertical change or 100-foot horizontal change the FAA allows in its permit for the park without Consumers going back to that agency for review – a review that could slow down the project. CARRE members have said that rather than rush to construct the wind park, Consumers should slow down and address legitimate concerns, even if that means it misses a 2012 deadline to receive up to $75 million in government funds for the $200 million wind park.
Consumers seeks to have the park in production by the fall of 2012 in order to meet a deadline required for the government green energy subsidies for building the park. It is under a 2015 deadline to produce or purchase 10 percent of its power used in Michigan from renewable sources. Lake Winds Energy Park, and another park planned for the Thumb, are key components to Consumers’ plan to meet that State of Michigan green energy portfolio mandate.
Bergaila began her letter to the ZBA stating the planning commission erred in its decision to grant the permit “because the setback they are allowing for wind turbines to the Omimex sour gas line and the DTE sweet gas lines are inadequate. The health, safety, and welfare of the residents have not been protected as required by the Mason County Zoning Ordinance and Special Land Use Criteria.”
Bergaila contends Consumers is being inconsistent because on other setbacks, for instance one concerning a guy wire, the company recommended a greater setback than it is for the Omimex sour gas line at turbine 23.
“The acceptance of less than a tower height of setback of the wind turbines to sour and sweet gas lines … is an error that is dangerous to the health, safety and welfare of the Riverton community,” she stated.
Later in the same letter, Bergaila states, “The planning commission was both unduly influenced by the needs of Consumers Energy, in particular their schedule, and the commission erred in their decision to approve Consumers Energy’s special land use for 56 wind turbines in Riverton and Summit townships because the plan does not meet criteria number 3. This criteria states that the use ‘will not be hazardous or disturbing to existing or future permitted uses in the same general vicinity and in the community as a whole.’ The lack of adequate setbacks of the proposed wind turbines to the existing gas lines will be a hazard to our community.”
Complicating matters is that there is no setback standard in current law. Bergaila makes reference to a tower height plus 10 percent standard by the wind industry, but it is not a requirement.
“There are no set rules on the distance of setback and wind turbines,” Prior told the Daily News. “It’s a new concept.”
Prior, in the FOIA’d e-mail, also instructs Mary Reilly, planning administrator for Mason County, not to let Schneider speak on Prior’s or Omimex’s behalf on these matters. Prior state he would prefer not to be caught in the controversy on the matter, and had hoped it could be worked out among the companies.
The Mason County Zoning Board of Appeals will meet Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. in the community room in the basement of the Ludington City Hall. The appeal is expected to be a matter of deliberation. Public comment was taken last week.
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