GILFORD – Questions raised Thursday by a member of the Almer Township Planning Commission in Gilford Township shed light on what happens when a wind turbine project comes to town.
Among other things, members of the Gilford Township Board of Trustees said shadow flicker and noise from turbines are real, construction can cause extensive damage to drainage tiles on farms, financial windfall from taxes isn’t guaranteed, and that officials shouldn’t “waste a lot of everybody’s time” discussing wind ordinances.
Darwin Rushlo, member, Almer Township Planning Commission, attended the regular monthly meeting of the Gilford Township Board of Trustees, with several questions for the board, stating that he was trying to learn more “to avoid any issues that might come up.”
“We are in the midst of reviewing our ordinances against wind farms right now and I would like to ask you folks a few questions seeing as you’ve dealt with them and have them in existence in this area,” Rushlo said.
The Tuscola Bay Wind Farm began operations in January 2013. The project includes 68 wind turbines in Gilford Township.
The NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C. project is similar in size to Tuscola III – also a project planned by NextEra, only to be built in Almer, Ellington and Fairgrove townships. The company has said it expects Tuscola III to begin operations in 2017. Ellington and Almer townships continue to review their respective ordinances.
Rushlo’s first question?
“What, if any, issues have come up since the wind turbines have been installed in this area?”
Gilford Township Supervisor James Stockmeyer identified “tax issues” as “one of the biggest.”
He didn’t elaborate but NextEra Energy Resources is challenging how much in taxes it should pay and how the value of wind turbines should been determined. The case is on the Michigan Tax Tribunal docket for later this year.
Impact on the local environment also was addressed.
Kent Houghtaling, trustee, Gilford Township board, said “Yeah, there is some shadow flicker. There’s some noise from them. It’s there.”
Houghtaling, who said he has turbines on his property, added that the biggest challenge was when the project was first proposed, and questions were raised over Gilford Township’s wind ordinance.
“When people tell you that they aren’t against the windmills, that they want you to change the ordinances…they’re against the windmills,” he said. “If you’ve got ordinances in place already then you’ve done your job. All they want you to do is to try and change them to outlaw them if they’re pushing, and pushing, and pushing all of the time.”
Houghtaling said township officials have “heard it all.”
Rushlo followed up Houghtaling’s comment.
“But basically, one they’re here people aren’t coming unglued?”
Several board members shook their heads, indicating no.
“Don’t waste a lot of everybody’s time trying to sort through your ordinances over and over and change little things here and there,” Houghtaling said. “Maybe you gotta do something to appease some of the people, but they’re gonna push, and push, and push, the ones that don’t want them in their backyard.”
“There could certainly be worse things in your township,” said Nancy Keyes, trustee, Gilford Township board. “There could be a nuclear plant…we don’t want them nearby.”
Keyes later said she has wind turbines on two sides of her house and had to have special darkening window shades installed because of shadow flicker after she complained several months ago.
“There’s a little bit of time during the year…we’re still in bed, we’re retired, we don’t get up real early and boy, you can see that,” Keyes said.
Stockmeyer also said “they do make noise.”
“I’ve had issues at my house with some of the noise, too,” he said. “But it isn’t like it’s deafening.”
Rushlo asked Stockmeyer specifically how often noise is an issue.
“It depends on how much wind and which direction the wind is coming from,” Stockmeyer said. “It’s not every night, but sometimes it’s five nights in a row.”
Houghtaling also pointed out what he identified as “probably the biggest problem the farmers had” – damage to drainage tiles
“They crushed a lot of tile. They hit tile with their power cables and whatnot,” Houghtaling said. “And it’s taken them the last couple of years to get them all repaired and, in fact, they’re still working on them.” Rushlo also asked if Gilford Township officials thought NextEra was an “up front” company or “if they were doing things behind your back that you found out about later?”
“Are they a decent company to work with…basically, do what they say they’re going to do?” Rushlo asked the board.
“Just the tax issue,” Stockmeyer said.
Houghtaling added that as the project progressed, weekly meetings were held between township officials and members of the construction team, road commission, and officials from NextEra.
“It was a good thing to have those weekly meetings,” Houghtaling said. “You kept up on what was going on plus you had the opportunity to talk to the developers if there were problems because they were sitting right there.”
Houghtaling said he didn’t know if those meetings were public.
However, as a result of those meetings, he said, things “changed things along the way, too.”
“I found them all right to work with, sometimes they were a little slow doing some things,” Houghtaling said.
Stockmeyer said the township was provided with “some information” regarding complaints the first year after the wind turbines were operational, but hasn’t received anything since.
“Things calm down after the project is over with,” Houghtaling said.