The Northport Village Planning Commission last week approved a special use permit for Leelanau Community Energy, LLC to build a windmill on village property near the sewer treatment plant.
The Commission voted 4-1, with chairman Bill Collins abstaining due to a conflict of interest. Collins is one of 15 investors in LCE. Planner Christine Verdon cast the lone nay vote.
“I’m not against green energy, but I was never completely satisfied that the property owners who are within range of the windmill would be protected,” Verdon said after the meeting. “And when the lease idea was presented to the Village Council, they never sought legal advice on whether it was the right thing to do.
“I think the lease seems to favor the people who want to put in the turbine and I’m not sure it’s in the best interests of all.”
The vote came Nov. 16 in an 80-minute continuum of a special meeting that started Nov. 2.
Tom Gallery, one of the investors, said the for-profit group of investors will begin taking soil samples and expending money on wind turbine equipment such as the tower or controller. The boring is needed to develop a foundation design.
Gallery said construction of a road to the sewer plant and the windmill will begin in April or May, 2012.
Four members of the public spoke out against the project and a letter from another was read into the minutes. One woman, Ilene Wolcott, voiced her support.
“It’s about contributing to an energy sustainable community which is the most important benefit to the future,” she said.
Resident Ron Schobel, a former downstate planning commission member, said he favored wind energy as long as it was in the proper setting. However, he didn’t believe this project was. He also said that a special wind ordinance committee should be formed and an ordinance governing wind energy projects should be adopted before the permit is approved.
He also said he has a strong feeling that the wind turbine will not benefit the community.
“The thing that bothers me most of all is that I don’t see where that profit is being returned to me,” Schobel said.
Barbara Gilmore Weber read a letter and gave the Commission a packet of wind turbine surveys and data supporting her claim that property around windmills decline.
“I am confident the wind turbine would adversely effect the property values in this the area,” Weber said. “This turbine is not a farmer’s windmill that pumps water to his back 40 acres.
“This is a hulking structure.”
Weber said according to the LCE lease with the village, the wind turbine would be turned over to the village in 13 years. And according to industry standards, the shelf life of a wind turbine is 10-12 years.
“One wonders if the council would consider placing it on ebay or Craig’s list,” she said.
Weber’s handouts covered health risks, flicker assault, bat destruction and noise annoyance.
“These articles offer up the dark side of turbine power,” she said. “I assume you will thoroughly consider all impacts of a commercial wind turbine placed in our village and in your wisdom, deny granting a private, for-profit corporation, land use not compatible with Norhport’s residential zoning ordinance.”
Betsy Mallek, of Leelanau Township, said she commended the Commission and LCE for their efforts to find alternative energy sources for the area. However, she said “prudence and due diligence” was needed to protect Leelanau’s unique environment and scenic vistas.
She questioned why the wind turbine was being built on public land and whether there was a direct benefit to the taxpayers.
“I feel passionately about a wind ordinance being in place,” said Mallek, who encouraged the Commission to review the township ordinance as a guide but tighten it up. “You’ve had two years of discussion with the LCE, why are we down to the nth hour and no ordinance is in place.”
Mallek said the business plan of the LCE should be made available to the Commission, which shows the financials for the turbine, the specific amount of energy that will be produced, the rates and the cost-savings in electricity from Consumers.
She also asked that data on projected net yearly profits on the lifetime of the lease be made available.
Rick Burmeister, a former member of the Council who lives close to where the turbine will be installed, said he just can’t believe there won’t be any noise or shadow flicker problems. He also wondered why no Commission members came out to walk his property to see how close the windmill would be to him.
Collins said he did not come, because he can’t vote.
“OK. But you can influence them,” Burmeister said.
Schobel also asked how did the investors get a $500 annual lease on June 9 from the village council?
“I refer to that as accommodation,” he answered.
Doug McInnis, spokesman for the LCE, rebutted the claim by opponents that the project is for wealthy investors and that there is no benefit to the community.
“Many of the investors are common and they’re not looking for the big bucks,” he said. “We are interested in seeing this community prosper and support it.
“After the investors have been paid for, the profits will go the village or the Northport-Leelanau Township Utilities Authority. We are not dictating which door that goes to.”
McInnis estimated that after maintenance costs, the turbine would produce $20,000-$25,000 per year.
“The amount of return the investors are getting is 4 percent of their money,” McInnis said. “It’s going to be sitting out there for 13 years.
“I’ll probably be dead by the time the last dollar comes.”
Dave Brigham, in a letter from the Leelanau Forum, said the village would become a utility company after LCE turns over the turbine.
“It could use any net profits from the wind turbine for whatever purposes they deemed appropriate without direct benefit to the NLTUA or the taxpayers,” Brigham said.
He also said the appropriate democratic process was not being applied to the wind turbine. He likened it to “an end-around approach.”
Prior to the vote, Collins said he was not investing to make money, but to give something back to Northport.
“I’m willing to take my 4 percent and give it to the village through township foundation,” Collins said.
LCE plans to construct a 120-kilowatt wind turbine. The turbine tower will have a tubular monopole 140 feet in height. The turbine blades will be 66 feet in diameter for an overall height of 173 feet.
The group also plans to build a 700-foot access road from the treatment plant to the windmill and install an underground electrical connection to the treatment plant.
“The project I think will mark Northport as a progressive community,” said Phil Mikesell, a Commission member and a trustee on the Village Council.
The permit was approved with additional requirements that the operators:
• Make information on the operation of the turbine available to the public via website.
• Annually make available to the public updated information on the power generated and the project finances.
• Arrange for independent testing in response to complaints by residents, who live within 1,500 feet, concerning noise or shadow flicker. If the complaint is confirmed, remove or mitigate the condition within two weeks. The standard for the acceptable noise level would not be more than three DBA’s above the ambient noise level. The maximum shadow flicker would be 10 hours per year.
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