PETOSKEY – While considering some proposed updates to Emmet County’s policies concerning wind energy systems on Thursday, some commissioners wondered whether the changes would fully address potential noise concerns about such equipment.
The commission did not take action on the updates proposed for the wind energy systems ordinance, which originally was adopted in 2009. Commission chairman John Eby said members will again consider the matter at their regular meeting on Nov. 7, and will conduct an additional public hearing on the matter at that time. Any position that the planning commission takes will serve as an advisory one for the county board of commissioners, which has final say on such zoning matters.
The proposed updates would adjust the allowable noise level for wind energy systems upward in areas with most zoning designations.
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.
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 property line of an adjacent site – 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.
On Thursday, planning commissioner Kelly Alexander noted concern that the noise measurement standards might not fully take into account the impacts that a wind energy system’s sound could have for people nearby.
While ambient noise may not necessarily be offensive, Alexander noted that such equipment sometimes produces low-frequency noise that’s “more of an irritant.”
“It’s a whole different kind of noise. I’m just saying,” he said.
At the same time, Alexander said there might not be a way of gauging that specific sort of noise impact that would be practical for the county.
County planning director Tammy Doernenburg noted that another scale of noise measurement perhaps could be considered for the policy as a way to address low-frequency sound issues. Planning commissioner Bert Notestine said he’d like to look further into what that would involve.
Another concern noted in Thursday’s discussion was the potential expense the county could face for noise measurement services if complaints emerge in the future about any wind energy systems.
Doernenburg said she’d discuss planning commissioners’ questions raised Thursday with the county’s in-house legal counsel to see how the ordinance could address these.
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.
A number of 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.
After Thursday’s meeting, John Woodcock of Bliss – who lives across the road from the wind farm project area – said he still sees concerns to be addressed about low-frequency noise levels, visual impacts and other effects of wind energy systems.
“I need someone to look after me, because I can’t do it,” he said during Thursday’s public hearing.
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