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In our opinion: Wind farm

Several townships in south Berrien County potentially face a massive decision in the coming year or two, as the Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy company eyes the area for a huge wind farm project.

We are certainly intrigued by the Apex proposal, but like many residents in the townships of Galien, Weesaw, Baroda, Buchanan and Three Oaks, we really want to hear more about the potential benefits and drawbacks.

But make no mistake, now is the time for residents of these communities to get informed about the Apex proposal and determine if it is something they support. Because if and when Apex wins local backing and decides the project makes sound economic sense, there will be no turning back on something that would literally transform that part of the county.

For their part, Apex officials say a lot of things must happen before the project is green-lighted. While officials say preliminary wind data is promising, the company plans to obtain far more extensive wind readings from locations in the target zone before committing to the estimated $250 million project.

With the rapidly changing energy market in Michigan and the stricter U.S. regulatory climate, we expect more areas in Michigan will have wind turbine companies knocking on their door. Something along these lines occurred in the late 1990s, when Southwest Michigan for a time faced several proposals for natural gas-fired peaker plants. However, all but one (near Covert) fizzled when the market for energy fluctuated.

Power generated from wind turbines looks to be a surer bet as coal-powered plants are being phased out due to the pollution they generate. In Michigan, one estimate has electricity production dropping by about 30 percent over the next 15 years as aging coal-powered plants go offline. Michigan will need vast replacement sources of electricity, and wind power is well-suited to help fill the void.

The benefits are pretty obvious. There is no greenhouse pollution or potential risk to the population (such as from nuclear energy), plus the turbines generate a steady source of power to supply to the electric grid. However, there is one glaring drawback: They are huge. And if you have a 500- to 600-foot-tall wind turbine spinning in the cornfield next to your house, it’s not like you won’t notice.

Detractors also will point to noise that the turbines generate, along with some light pollution and the threat to migrating birds.

On the benefit side, land owners near turbines – especially those property owners who host the turbines – would be compensated by Apex for their trouble. The townships would also reap a windfall in tax revenue, as well as potentially see big improvements to a crumbling road system.

We expect that elected leaders in the five townships already are earning their pay, and will see the heat turned up over the next few months as they work with residents to figure out whether to welcome Apex – or try to thwart the project.

So keep up the hard work, south county: The winds of change are blowing your way.

(An opinion of The Herald-Palladium editorial board)