Proposed updates to Emmet County’s wind energy system policies will get continued consideration from county planning commissioners today, Thursday, Nov. 7.
A regular planning commission meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. today at the county building in downtown Petoskey.
Any position that the planning commission takes concerning the updates 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 county 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.
When planning commissioners discussed the proposed updates at their Oct. 3 meeting, as one concern noted was 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, planning commissioner Kelly Alexander noted that wind energy equipment sometimes produces low-frequency noise that’s “more of an irritant.”
On Wednesday, county planning director Tammy Doernenburg said her office will give planning commissioners some background information on potential responses to such concerns.
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 – areas eyed in recent years for a proposed $150 million wind farm – have been vocal about not increasing any sound limits to prevent a large, utility-scale project from being developed in their community.
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