MCKINLEY TOWNSHIP – You had questions about wind energy. We asked, and on Wednesday, DTE Energy answered.
As part of the media-only wind tour to its Brookfield Wind Farm, DTE took questions related to wind energy submitted by Tribune readers.
Jeff Hall of Lincoln Township wondered what would happen if his property value decreased because of nearby turbines, especially if he didn’t sign a contract to participate in a wind energy project, and if DTE could help recoup the loss when he decided to sell.
Matt Wagner of DTE Energy said “robust, statistical” analyses and national studies haven’t shown property losses due to nearby wind turbines.
“I would treat it like anything else; if somebody felt like … ‘Hey, wind energy has affected my property values,’ we’d talk to them,” Wagner said. “Sometimes we can respond. Sometimes there’s nothing we can do.”
Locally, a report by the county’s Equalization Department shows personal property values continuing to push the county’s tax value higher, due mostly to wind development. Though the report considers various factors, it shows slight increases in residential values for some townships that have turbines – Bingham, Brookfield, Chandler, Fairhaven and Sebewaing – and dips in others – Winsor, Sheridan, Rubicon, Oliver and Grant.
So, would DTE have put up so many wind turbines without government subsidies or the surcharges residents pay on utility bills?
It was a question asked by Lou Colletta of Lake Township.
“The driving factor is not surcharges or subsidies; the driving factor is that the state established a mandate,” Wagner said.
In 2008, the state created a law requiring utilities to reach a 10 percent renewable energy goal by the end of 2015.
“Would we be doing it if there wasn’t a mandate? I think DTE would be doing some amount of wind energy, but probably not at this scale,” Wagner said. “But obviously, a mandate of 10 percent, that set a pretty high bar that we had to meet. I would say to Lou that it’s the 10 percent renewable goal that drove these wind turbines, much less than the surcharge, recognizing that it was the state that established the surcharge.”
Ron Ruth, who lives near DTE’s area for the Meade Wind Park, asked if anyone ever complained of contracting Meniere’s disease because of a turbine.
Meniere’s disease is a disorder of the inner ear that causes severe dizziness and a roaring sound in the ears called tinnitus – a common cause of hearing loss, according to the National Institute of Health. Scientists do not yet know the cause of the disease, and there is no cure.
“I’ve never had somebody complain that turbines have caused Meniere’s disease,” Wagner said. “In the research that we’ve reviewed, I’ve never seen that come up. We’ve not seen a connection at all.”
Ruth says his wife has the disease and anything in motion – cars, wind turbines and other objects – contributes toward her ailment. If wind turbines in the Meade project come within a quarter mile of their home, the motion of the turbine and shadow flicker would affect her, he said.
Ruth asked if a turbine planned for Chandler Township, near his home, could be removed. Wagner said they have talked about shielding the turbine from Ruth’s home, using trees to block the view.
How about comparing a wind turbine, Colletta asked, versus a gas turbine – found in natural gas power plants – as far as continuous need energy output?
“I would say a gas-fired plant is more baseload oriented,” Wagner said. “But wind certainly is a valuable part of our portfolio. Once the turbine is up and operating, the fuel is free for as long as the wind turbine operates. Cost of fuel is a significant component of any energy generation, and for wind energy, that’s why it’s renewable, because it’s completely free.”
But DTE officials deemed Colletta’s next question “ridiculous” and coming from someone “who has an agenda.”
Colletta asked DTE to compare the costs of the 328 wind turbines in Huron County, with a possible eventual total of 700, if they would have converted the power plant in Harbor Beach to operate on gas instead of coal burning, for the money spent on research and development, lease monies, banquets, advertising and meetings.
“That’s kind of a ridiculous question, isn’t it?” Wagner said.
“I think that’s just a question from someone who has an agenda,” said Vanessa Waters, DTE media relations strategist.
But Wagner later said he respected Colletta’s question.
“We found wind energy to be much more competitive with other forms of energy than it used to be,” Wagner said. “If it wasn’t, the state wouldn’t be saying, ‘How about 10 percent?’ ”
The Michigan Public Service Commission recently reported costs for wind power dropped to about $50 per megawatt-hour, halved from the rate in 2009.
DTE also responded Thursday with a follow-up, via email.
“DTE closed Harbor Beach Power Plant due to changing environmental regulations, not based on how many wind turbines we expected to be built,” said Scott Simons, senior media relations specialist. “Also, Harbor Beach was no longer needed to support voltage in the area because of the construction of a new transmission line.”
Other readers have, in the past, questioned whether the energy produced by Huron County turbines stays in the county or is transferred elsewhere. Wagner previously said some stays in the Thumb and some moves out, with “a fairly substantial amount” going to Port Huron, Detroit and other places.
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