CASS CITY – Proponents of wind energy in the Thumb hosted the final of four “community conversations” Monday night at Cass City High School, and the majority of the audience left in favor of wind turbines.
Wind Works Michigan touted benefits to the tax base and local economy, farmland preservation, and stable farm income as reasons why wind energy is good for rural communities.
Gratiot County is considered a national model for wind farm planning, said Donald Schurr, president of Greater Gratiot Development Inc.
“Wind is, from my perspective in a rural area, it’s bringing opportunities for the community to have wealth opportunities,” he told a crowd of about 50 people, who were both for and against the renewable energy source.
Of those in the audience that participated in polls throughout the presentation, 44 percent were strongly in favor of wind turbines, and 34 percent opposed them. The remainder of the audience was neutral.
Audience members were given a “clicker” to vote on a variety of wind-related questions.
By the end of the presentation, 64 percent of the audience thought wind farms would benefit Michigan’s Thumb; 24 percent disagreed, and the rest were neutral.
Other issues presented included how wind turbines affect property values; state, county and local zoning issues; environmental factors and decommissioning the turbines.
In Michigan, “The counties that experienced wind growth also experienced the highest developing value of property because of the wind turbines,” Schurr said.
Matthew J. Wagner, manager of wind development for DTE energy, cited a study that shows there is a chance that wind farms may increase property values – although that was challenged by audience members.
According to Schurr’s presentation, Huron County received $18.9 million in wind revenue from 2014 to 2015. Gratiot County received $16.6 million; Tuscola County 8 million, and Sanilac County $3.2 million.
“All other things aside, it does make money for the communities,” Schurr said.
“Can you remember the days when we were talking about cutting staff, cutting sheriff’s department, cutting everything? Well, we’re still having fights in Gratiot County. We’re fighting over how to spend it instead of how to cut it.”
“We’re not Pollyanna. These are big honkin’ machines. They change the environment and the landscape forever. Is it something that makes sense for us collectively to pay attention and live with that?”
Gratiot County began holding countywide meetings to work with developers and do research.
“And most of all, we got a regional reputation for collaboration,” he said.
Chuck Lippstreu of Michigan Agri-Business Association said any community that has the potential to host wind turbines should be having a dialogue about wind energy.
“Wind energy preserves open space and affords long-term protection for farmland and agriculture,” he said.
Skip Pruss, a representative from 5 Lakes Energy of Lansing, presented environmental data on various energy sources, and how wind energy leaves a “smaller footprint” than other sources, such as coal and nuclear.
Many companies, he said, have 100 percent zero carbon goals, and will only invest in communities that have clean energy sources, such as wind and solar.
The meeting lasted about 2½ hours.
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