March 14, 2013

Voters blow away Reading Township wind project

by Jack Butler on March 14, 2013 | The Hillsdale Collegian |

For now, wind power will stay out of Reading Township.

That was the decision of residents of Reading, a township 11 miles southwest of Hillsdale, in a referendum on Feb. 26, the vote followed a long, fierce debate over Duke Energy’s proposed Hillsdale Windpower Project. Reading Township Supervisor Jon Burrell said it was an “overwhelming” vote against the project.

The project would have encompassed approximately 12,000 acres of land in Allen, Cambria, and Reading Townships of Hillsdale County, according to a document on Duke Energy’s Hillsdale Windpower Project website. The document also said that the project would create many jobs, both short-term construction and long-term maintenance, and provide tax revenue.

“What ‘no’ means is that township voters rejected ordinance changes pertaining to industrial wind farms, mostly relating to noise,” Burrell said. “In August, the Reading Township Board amended the ordinances to make them more permissible, which would have allowed Duke to put up more wind towers.”

The Zoning Ordinance of Reading Township, a publicly available document, “as it is is fairly restrictive,” Burrell said. Voters have the chance to vote on any changes to zoning regulations through referendum.

Burrell said that, although the vote was in February, Duke Energy had abandoned the project in November 2012, citing inadequate infrastructure in a letter to local officials.

“There was no nearby transmission line with enough capacity. The existing one was insufficient,” Burrell said. “The thumb area [of Michigan] is where most of these projects are really going.”

The letter went on to maintain the possibility for returning to develop in seven to 10 years.

The Windpower Project had engendered significant debate over the past few months, with several organizations joining the fray. “Save Reading,” one such organization, formed in the beliefs that “the many unintended consequences of wind energy are being significantly downplayed or outright ignored by the power company…and our township government has not adequately addressed our concerns,” according to its mission statement.

The Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition, Inc., “a non-profit corporation dedicated to raising public awareness of the potential impacts from the construction of industrial wind turbines in our region,” also participated in public debate, encouraging its members to call their elected officials and attend town meetings. Representatives of the group even appeared at Mark Steyn’s public lecture at Hillsdale last spring.

As for the future of wind energy in Reading Township, Burrell said that the vote had made it uncertain.

“[The vote] really did finalize it. This project was bigger than just Reading,” Burrell said. “Reading was just the centerpiece. Duke wanted to go into Allen and Cambria Townships, but it wasn’t possible without the approval of Reading.

“The wind project has gone away and will probably never come back.”

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