In his mind’s eye, Lynn Smith can see the future.
He looks out at the 1,250 acres of corn, wheat and soybeans off 12-Mile Road between Battle Creek and Marshall – land that his father bought in 1953 and which Smith still owns – and sees what America needs.
He sees wind turbines rising above the landscape, lined up like giant soldiers, churning their great blades and providing cheap, practically limitless energy for years to come. He sees it and he wonders why few others do.
“As I tell people, the wind is going to blow forever,” Smith said. “It can just blow by us or we can use it.”
Lynn Smith is no tree-hugging environmentalist. At age 68, he has spent his entire life on that farm and, along with a gravel pit he owns just down the street and the land he rents out for farming now, he says he wants for very little in this world.
But he also sees what’s happening to the farming industry and to America itself as it continues its addiction to oil. And he wants to do his part to change the game, even as he admits, “I’ll probably be dead before any of this happens.”
He believes rural parts of Calhoun County are ideal for wind farms, which can be home to dozens of turbines which can produce more than enough energy for local communities. He says wind energy is clean, cheap and he finds the turbines themselves to be spectacular, even as he admits others find them eyesores.
His idea has been to convince local planning commissions to change their ordinances, which at the moment restrict structures such as wind turbines to 300 feet in height. After consultations with experts and research of his own, he said turbines in Calhoun County would be more effective at 500 feet because, “that’s where the wind is,” he said.
He has already convinced planning members in Emmett, Convis and Pennfield townships to raise the limit to 500 feet and there’s another meeting in Marshall Township tomorrow night at 7 p.m. in the township office, 13551 Myron Avery Drive.
Of course, all those agreements would mean is that the planning boards will take the recommendation to full commissions, which must vote on it. If they agree, the process continues, though wind farms in the county, realistically, would be years away.
Smith became a true believer in the power of wind energy in 1998 on a trip to Palm Springs, Calif., when he saw hundreds of them in the desert generating energy.
“They looked so majestic,” he said.
Smith is also quick to add that he doesn’t believe wind energy alone is the answer.
“I’m not advocating getting away from fossil fuels,” he said. “But technology has changed so much.”
And there is interest on the national level.
Arion Energy of Denver, Colo., and Smith have been holding a dialogue for months and a study to look at the viability of a wind farm with at least 50 turbines (and one day perhaps as many as 80 to 100) is under way. Smith said $80,000 has already been spent on an initial study and another $600,000 would be needed for a complete study.
One of the requirements, however, is that the county must make 3,000 to 4,000 acres of contiguous land available before a plan would even be considered.
Smith has literally knocked on his neighbors’ doors, some of whom have farmed their land almost as along as he has, and asked them to donate land to a potential wind farm. He said he has commitments for 7,000 acres.
Smith is hopeful that once the height requirements are changed and local governments agree to move forward, that plans can take off from there.
“While (Arion) is doing their study, we need to do some education,” he said. “I just want to find a way to make farming profitable again.”
He acknowledges there is resistance to wind farms not only here but around the state. But he remains convinced and committed to the only plan he believes can work in the long run.
“I’m happy with what I’m doing,” said Smith, who said the whole project could be a fool’s errand. “It could happen but it’s not going to be because I stopped trying.”