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Wind turbine policy updates to get Emmet planners’ consideration

PETOSKEY – The Emmet County Planning Commission soon will be considering changes to the county’s wind energy systems ordinance that would increase wind turbines’ allowable noise levels in many locations.

Planning commissioners will meet at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, at the county building in downtown Petoskey.

Opportunities for public input on the proposed changes will be available at the meeting, county planning director Tammy Doernenburg said. Any position that the planning commission takes on the changes would serve as an advisory one for the county board of commissioners, which would have final say on modifying the oridinance.

Currently, the county’s ordinance sets a maximum noise level of 35 decibels for wind energy systems as measured at the property line of the generator’s site.

Proposed changes would increase that noise level to 40 decibels in areas with most zoning classifications – other than farm-forest 2, a rural zone with relatively low allowable building density where the limit would remain at 35.

“Higher-intensity uses typically have higher sound associated with them,” said Doernenburg.

The location for measuring noise levels would be modified as well. Rather than the property line of the wind turbine site itself, measurements would be calculated along the setback line of an adjacent property – which could require a measurement a bit farther away from the wind turbine site if a road separates it from the neighboring one.

In addition, proposed ordinance language would provide additional detail on how ambient noise levels should be taken into consideration along with those produced by a wind turbine itself.

If the ambient noise level along the neighboring property line exceeds 40 decibels without a turbine in place, an additional 5 decibels would be allowed for the generator between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., with zero additional noise from the wind turbine allowed during overnight hours.

The ordinance updates also define maximum noise level for the wind energy systems as the equivalent continuous sound pressure level as measured over a 10-minute period, and list qualifications which a professional would need to conduct such measurements.

Doernenburg said proposed changes largely are based on recommendations that engineering firm AECOM made after reviewing the wind energy ordinance from the county.

County officials also proposed some adjustments in order to bring the wind energy ordinance into line with the county’s master plan.

County wind turbine noise limits have been a subject of some contention.

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.

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.

Balance 4 Earth began planning several years ago for a $150 million wind farm projected called the Bliss Plateau Wind Farm in the two townships. Those plans stalled as a result of the 35 decibel zoning.