Legislation to protect wind farms from lawsuits appears likely to die in the lame duck session.
The legislation proposed by Republican state Senator Howard Walker would make it harder for neighbors to sue if wind turbines are noisy. Critics say it’s a favor for one company based in Traverse City.
Wind farms have popped up across the state since Michigan passed a new law encouraging them in 2008. Sometimes neighbors say the noise of the turbines causes headaches and interrupts sleep. In a few cases, homeowners have sued.
But Kevon Martis says it is not easy to sue a utility.
Martis runs a non-profit group concerned with the impact of wind farms on communities. He says in one lawsuit, the utility produced a witness list of more than 100 people.
“Just the legal cost associated with that many depositions is prohibitive,” he says. “It’s already a very high burden for your average person to try to defend themselves against loss of amenity to their home when the people on the other side of the table are often a Fortune 100 or 200 utility.”
That’s why Martis testified against legislation that would restrict a homeowner’s ability to sue and require some plaintiffs to pay attorney’s fees if they don’t win.
This issue has been very contentious in places where wind farms have been built, including Mason and Missaukee Counties. Sen. Howard Walker says wind farms deserve the kind of protections that regular farms already have from people who don’t want them in their back yard.
“This legislation was developed so that somebody could harness or harvest that wind that was flowing over their property without being sued by somebody who didn’t like the operation,” Walker says.
One man who would clearly benefit from this legislation is Marty Lagina, the founder of Heritage Sustainable Energy.
His company owns wind farms near McBain and on the Garden Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula. Neighbors on the Garden Peninsula have hired an attorney and a lawsuit could be forthcoming.
Howard Walker told Michigan Capitol Confidential that he is a former business associate of Lagina and that he did discuss the bills with him. Walker insists this is not a favor to Lagina but rather an important change if Michigan wants to produce more renewable energy in the future.
“I think it’s an issue that needs to be resolved,” he says.
It appears unlikely Senator Walker’s legislation will resolve it. No similar bill has been introduced in the state house with just a few days to go in Walker’s final senate term.
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