PETOSKEY – Emmet County planning commissioners decided Thursday to recommend some updates to the county’s policies concerning wind energy systems.
The planning commission supported the changes – including an upward adjustment in wind energy systems’ allowable noise levels in areas with most county zoning designations – by a 6-2 vote, with commissioner David Laughbaum absent from the meeting. The planning commission’s stance will serve as an advisory one for the Emmet County Board of Commissioners, which has final say in setting such zoning policies.
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.
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.
As planning commissioners have discussed the policy changes this fall, some members have identified additional provisions they’d like to see included, such as limitations on low-frequency noises from wind energy equipment that some people may find irritating and scheduled maintenance requirements for the equipment.
Planning commissioners Steve Neal and Kelly Alexander, who cast the dissenting votes on the policy changes, said they’d prefer to see concerns about such topics addressed as part of the update in the short term.
“We’re making discoveries that are worthy,” Neal said. “They should be here at the front end.”
Alexander added, “I don’t want to see Bliss (an area that’s been eyed for large-scale wind energy development in recent years) or anyone else fall through the cracks until we can get to those issues.”
Planning commissioner Shawn Wonnacott, who also serves on the county board of commissioners, agreed that there were additional concerns to be addressed, but he wasn’t sure if they were essential in making the county’s overall wind energy policy defendable in court.
“As a county commissioner, I feel compelled to get something passed that will satisfy civil counsel,” Wonnacott said.
Along with Wonnacott, planning commissioners voting in favor of the policy updates included Paul Desy, Bert Notestine, John Eby, James Scott and Dan Plasencia.
In conjunction with their vote favoring the other policy updates, planning commissioners directed planning staff to prepare some potential policy options concerning matters such as low-frequency noise. They made plans to discuss it at another meeting in the near future.
The Emmet County Board of Commissioners will consider proposed updates to the county’s wind energy system policies when it meets at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13 at the county building in Petoskey.
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