BALTIC – In a move aimed at blocking development of a wind farm on and around Whealkate Bluff, the Adams Township Board voted Monday not to amend a wind farm ordinance to allow turbines closer to homes than originally intended.
The move came at the end of a packed meeting in which more than 100 township residents made it clear most would prefer not to see the wind turbines on their skyline.
“The ordinance will stay the same, the way it is,” township Supervisor Gerald Heikkinen said. “I think renewable energy is our future, in Adams or out. But as for now, no wind farm in Adams Township.”
The township’s ordinance, adopted last year, states wind turbines must be located at least 3,000 feet from any adjacent property lines, roads or homes. Dave Hokens, co-owner of Farm Wind Energy, had told the township that setback would make his company’s proposed six- to 10-turbine project unfeasible, and had asked the township to amend the setbacks so that turbines could be as close as 500 feet from property lines and 1,500 feet from homes.
Township residents applauded the vote at the end of the meeting, after expressing numerous concerns and citing a variety of potential health and economic issues that have been noted in other communities.
This may not be the end for Farm Wind Energy’s project, however. Hokens was not at the meeting, but has said in the past he would consider a lawsuit to force the township to change the ordinance.
“We were threatened with litigation,” Heikkinen said.
Farm Wind consultants Dave Drapac and Eric Udelhofen, who represented the company at the meeting, said they didn’t know anything about a possible lawsuit.
Despite what Heikkinen said was a May 1 deadline Hokens gave for changing the ordinance, he said Farm Wind was not ready to move forward on several other fronts, and litigation was hopefully an idle threat.
“They have no business plan, no lease agreements,” he said. “It’s settled unless we get a letter from an attorney.”
Udelhofen said the biggest issue facing the company was finding a buyer for the electricity the wind farm would generate. He said Farm Wind has been in negotiations with the Upper Peninsula Power Company, but because of the cost of electrical transmission there were only a few other buyers who would consider purchasing the electricity.
“The first thing I think we need to know, is there really somebody going to buy it?” asked one resident. “If there is, we should tell them not to buy it.”
After hearing that the wind farm was projected to create enough power for about 5,000 homes, one audience member asked whether the power would be used locally and whether local rates would go down. They would not, he was told.
One major topic of discussion was how much the township would benefit from tax revenue created by the wind farm. Udelhofen said the company estimated it would pay about $250,000 per year. Heikkinen said accountants he talked with came up with different figures, and that with the township receiving only 1.3 percent of overall millage revenues, he expected it to receive about $700 annually.
He said there was also a concern that adding the wind farm to the tax base could affect how much the township receives in state revenue sharing, currently more than $130,000.
A representative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also spoke about the danger wind turbines could pose to bats and birds. He said the northern long-eared bat, which was recently added to the federal threatened species list, could be affected, as could the little brown bat, in danger of being added to that list.
With the proposed project close to mines where bats hibernate, he said there could be some permitting challenges for the wind farm.
For many neighboring residents, potential property value losses and health concerns were the biggest issues. David Kamm cited research saying low-frequency noise could cause long-term health issues.
“They can cause nausea, alertness or inability to sleep,” he said.
Township Treasurer Nancy Immonen said she felt the board’s vote reflected the will of the township residents.
“They were here for the vote, and they got it,” she said. “I was real pleased with the turnout.”
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