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Wind turbine growth likely to stall next summer; Wind farm reaching transmission capacity limits

The past four summers have seen something other than corn sprouting in the fields of Missaukee County: A total of 29 industrial wind turbines have been erected since the Stoney Corners Wind Farm began in 2008. Robust wind and a lack of zoning created favorable conditions for a wind turbine development, but so far, there has been no expansion outside of Missaukee County.

Expansion into Wexford County, Project Manager Rick Wilson said, is held back more by a lack of transmission capacity than it is finding viable sites for placing new turbines. But it is still a possibility.

“We might have a little room for added capacity in the next couple of years. We do have some excellent sites in Clam Lake Township we would eventually like to take advantage of,” Wilson said.

This summer, Heritage expanded the Stony Corners Wind Farm to the east and southeast, placing an additional 10 towers in Missaukee County.

Wilson said he was not sure how many towers it would take to max out the transmission line, but for now it is an impediment of further growth into either Wexford or Osceola counties.

Nancy Tanner, a spokesperson for Wolverine Power Cooperative, said the co-op’s strong support of renewable energy as evidenced by its commitment to purchase the entire output of the Harvest Wind Farm in Michigan’s Thumb.

Tanner also said that while Wolverine Power’s transmission system is operated by the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, or MISO, and while Wolverine maintains its transmission system according to MISO requirements, a wind generation developer could move ahead with a transmission upgrade if willing to follow MISO’s process and pick up the applicable costs.

Wexford County still plans to amend its zoning ordinance to include new regulations pertaining to wind turbines. It has, for now, scrapped the idea of revising the entire zoning ordinance to include new wind turbine regulations, and instead will include the new regulations in an amendment to the ordinance.

As it stands, wind turbines are allowed in the county’s Agriculture/Residential District zones but are subject to height restrictions. Local wind turbines are as tall as 475 feet from the ground to the top of the blade tip.

Currently, approval of wind turbine construction rests solely with the planning commission. Under an interim set of regulations, wind turbines must be located no closer to a residence than at least two times the height of the tower up to the height of the hub. The proposed ordinance revision would restrict them to at least three times the tower’s height from a residence in an Agricultural/Residential District. In residential districts, wind turbines would have to be at least 1/2-mile away.

Also under the proposed revision, noise generated by a wind turbine must not exceed 50 decibels, or the background sound level plus 5 decibels, whichever is greater, for more than 10 percent of any hour, measured from any residence, school, hospital, church, or public library existing on the date of approval for the wind turbine’s special-use permit. If the turbine emits a steady tone, the above standards apply, but the sound must not exceed 45 decibels or the background noise level plus five decibels.

According to a gauge developed by Indiana University researcher Robert Port, 50 decibels is comparable to a quiet conversation. A normal conversation is about 70 decibels, and a soft whisper is about 30 decibels.

After Planning and Zoning staff finishes the revisions and the draft is approved by County Prosecutor Mark Smathers, who provides legal advice to the county, a public hearing on the revisions will be held.

Green estimated the public hearing could be as soon as the middle of November.