MANISTIQUE – Investigation into the positive and negative effects of wind turbine use continues as county commissioners remain under the watchful eyes of residents who have become a mainstay at meetings following the passage of amendments to the county’s zoning ordinance. During a regular board meeting last week, the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners welcomed yet another speaker to address the issue that has effectively divided an entire community.
Kevon Martis, the director of the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition, Inc., visited the area to speak out against wind turbines and wind energy in general. According to its website, IICC is a non-profit corporation “dedicated to raising public awareness of the potential impacts from the construction of industrial wind turbines” and believes that “protection of the health, safety and welfare of the residents of our region should be the paramount concern of our governmental and industrial leaders”.
During the meeting, Martis offered the commissioners and public a presentation about wind turbines and their potential negative impact. In addition, he reviewed the county’s option with zoning, noting that the board should consider obtaining legal council for the task.
“Developing wind energy ordinances that can withstand legal scrutiny is a specialty,” he said. “It’s important to retain experienced council in these matters.”
Martis said he read the county’s amended sections 102 and 508, adopted in June and thought the county took a “strong stand in defense of the residents’ rights in the community”. In light of this, Martis explained he would offer advice on how to make the ordinance “less likely to bring legal action”.
He began by explaining that those who serve on the zoning board and commission never anticipate controversy like that caused by the possibility of a wind farm. To avoid this, Martis said, these public servants have a couple options.
“Reasonable wind energy zoning regulations driven by a couple of principles … consent and compensation, can place that burden back in the laps of the developer to sell his project to all the people who are affected, rather than leaving it in the zoning board or county commissioner’s lap to decide for everybody,” he said. “I think there’s a much fairer way to do it.”
Martis also took time in presentation to address the Michigan Renewable Energy Standard, outlined in Public Act 295, which states that Michigan electric providers must achieve a retail supply portfolio that includes at least ten percent renewable energy by 2015. He said this is the main reason wind development has been so widespread in the state and noted that the standard was recently called into question by United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner, who stated it was unconstitutional for the state to mandate that all renewable energy come from instate.
This, Martis stated, takes away from the wind developers’ argument that Michigan communities should be permissive in their zoning to comply with the energy standard.
In the matter of setbacks, Martis said “experience has been a harsh teacher” and that Michigan’s originally suggested setbacks have come under fire in many communities.
“Every major wind development in the state of Michigan has produced widespread complaints about noise, shadow flicker and other effects or legal battles,” he said.
He noted that in Garden Township, 73 people have signed a petition requesting relief from the turbines.
“This is not unique to them – this is not a whiny bunch of people that you have in Garden,” he said. “This is happening with all the other wind developments in the state.” a
Martis explained that, last year, the state released “Readying Michigan to Make Good Energy Decisions: Renewable Energy”, a publication suggesting one and a quarter mile setbacks and noise limits below 40 dBA (decibels on the A-scale) in hilly terrain.
“They also give reference to a paper that suggests that, in fact, wind turbines can make people ill,” he said.
In addition, Martis said that Michigan’s wind isn’t competitive with some of the windier states, such as Iowa. He explained this is reflective in the price, as Iowa’s wind sells for approximately $30 a megawatt hour, while Michigan’s sells for around $79 per megawatt hour.
“It’s a substantial premium over what electricity is actually worth,” Martis said. I
In regard to wind energy’s contribution to a cleaner environment, Martis claimed that the energy source has only reduced coal plant emissions by three or four percent.
Martis said the commissioners can draw guidance on wind turbine zoning regulations from the oath they took when they entered office, which was to, “promote the health, safety, and welfare” of citizens. He said this oath would be considered for any questionable business wanting to come to the area.
“Their number one commitment is to maximize their return on investment,” he said. “The county commission and the planning commission are those who have sworn an oath to protect their residents. There is no other line of defense for your people.”
Martis went on to explain that any zoning ordinance enacted by the county in regard to wind turbine development need only have a “rational relationship” to the commissioners’ oath. In addition, this ordinance cannot be “arbitrary or capricious” and commissioners must prove they have done their “best” to come to a “reasonable solution”.
“In court, it’s almost unassailable,” he said “Reasonable zoning is incredibly strong.”
Martis noted that he has not heard of one case brought by wind developer against a community in regard to zoning regulations since 2008. He also pointed out that referendums by communities are a strong tool against any possible legal action from wind developers.
“Every time zoning at the township level has gone to a referendum in the state of Michigan, in my experience, it has won,” he said. “It has won by a margin of as big as 71 to 29 percent.”
Martis concluded his presentation by offering setback and noise limit recommendations based on experience and even some wind manufacturers’ worker safety guidelines.
“The noise limits and the physical setbacks really need to be measured from the property line and not from an interior feature of a neighboring parcel,” he said. “ believe that people have a right to do what they wish on their private property … but the bottom line is that, ‘the right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins’.”
He added that the commissioners should pay close attention to possible property value impacts, as well as the decommissioning of wind turbines once they reach their life’s end.
Following the presentation, Martis took questions from both the audience and commissioners. No action was taken by commismembers