A private firm commissioned to study the ordinance governing wind turbines in Emmet County is recommending local officials go along with plans to increase the allowable noise levels.
County officials have been looking at what revisions might be needed to its 2009 wind energy systems ordinance – capping wind turbine sound at 35 decibels – to be defendable in court. Turbine developers have called the limit “exclusionary zoning” that essentially eliminates energy systems, compared to the 55-decibel state of Michigan guideline.
In late 2012, the Emmet County Planning Commission was considering an increase to 40 decibels of ambient noise. However, those plans stalled when members wanted to commission an expert to review the ordinance.
That report was released last Thursday.
“(The report) becomes public information at this point,” said Tammy Doernenburg, Emmet County Planning and Zoning director, who distributed the report to the Emmet County Planning Commission last week with no discussion. “I will be talking to (Emmet County attorney) Kathy Abbott about it next week and hopefully have recommendations for the zoning ordinance next month.”
Engineering firm AECOM recommends in the report that Emmet County “proceed with the proposed limit change of 40 decibels (ambient noise)” and to implement a 35 decibel criteria for areas with particularly low background noise.
The report also recommends several modifications to how sound is defined in the ordinance, including making “maximum noise level” as defined to be a 10-minute continuous sound pressure level. Currently, the county defines the noise level at three minutes.
The report also calls on Emmet County to revamp how it measures sound and where.
Currently, Emmet County measures sound at the property line of where a wind energy system is installed. The report recommends a measurement 100-feet from a “noise sensitive building.”
It will be up to the Emmet County Planning Commission decide how to proceed, but it is unlikely to be without contention.
Several residents in Bliss and Carp Lake townships have been vocal about not increasing any sound limits to prevent a large, utility-scale project from being developed in their community.
Plans have been in the works for several years by Balance 4 Earth to build a $150 million wind farm projected called the Bliss Plateau Wind Farm in the two townships.
Those plans have stalled as a result of the 35 decibel zoning.
The Emmet County Planning Commission is expected to discuss what changes might be made to the wind ordinance at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 3, in the commissioners room at the Emmet County Courthouse, 200 Division St. in downtown Petoskey.