The Michigan Senate is considering a bill that would strip residents of their right to sue over the “nuisance” of nearby wind turbines. It will likely get nowhere in the few days remaining in 2014, but could be reintroduced in 2015.
There have been many lawsuits in Michigan and other states brought against turbine operators for noise, vibrations, and flickering lights causing sleeplessness, headaches, and other physical symptoms, as well as economic loss, for nearby residents.
The legislation would protect developers and owners of these mammoth projects so long as they operate in compliance with local and state ordinances.
But creating a blanket protection for controversial energy projects is a hasty response to a developing problem.
The Legislature should be careful about taking away the right to sue over property rights issues. And if it does, it absolutely must provide another method for residents to file a grievance.
Local communities are the best arbiters of these conflicts.
The controversy does serve as fair warning to lawmakers as they work on updating the state’s energy policy in 2015. Michigan utilities are meeting the current mandate of generating 10 percent of energy from renewable sources. They got there ahead of next year’s deadline largely by the use of windmills.
But in almost every instance, the wind farms have been met with community resistance.
Now, there is a push by environmentalists to raise the percentage. The Legislature should avoid additional mandates, particularly since new federal rules limiting coal-fired power production will already force utilities to scramble to convert to cleaner energy sources. At the moment, natural gas makes far more sense than wind.
Since 2008, subsidizing wind energy production to comply with the state’s renewable energy mandate has cost Michigan taxpayers $43 million annually.
Of Midwestern states, Michigan follows only Ohio in paying the most out-of-pocket to subsidize wind energy, according to the Institute for Energy Research.
Additionally, wind energy in Michigan, while better than in much of the Midwest, is intermittent and unreliable. Turbines can only be counted on to produce energy about 40 percent of the time, often during off-peak hours in Michigan, compared to 60 percent in plains and coastal states.
That means Michigan needs more windmills, and that forces more confrontations with property owners.
Stripping residents of their ability to file a lawsuit, at a minimum, to deal with grievances against wind turbines is no solution.
The Senate should park this bill and encourage the Legislature to adopt a more flexible energy policy that better takes into account both production costs and community concerns.