SHIAWASSEE COUNTY, MI – A proposed wind energy project bringing up to 60, 600-foot tall turbines to rural Shiawassee County has residents split on the impact it could have on the community at large.
Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy has spoken with local officials about the Maple Rapids Wind project that crosses into four townships – Fairfield, Rush, Owosso and Middlebury – on approximately 16,000 acres of land.
Supporters of the project argue the energy source would help the environment, land leases would provide millions of dollars for property owners while creating no health and safety concerns for residents.
But opponents are worried about the change in aesthetics in the country setting with the potential 60-story devices and zoning regulations that may disturb future building by property owners not signed on with the project.
Brad Lila, director of project development for Apex, said more than 300,000 turbines have gone up across the globe, including over 48,000 in the United States.
“This is not new technology,” he said during a Dec. 7 public forum in Owosso, noting the project is in mid-stage development.
Apex hopes to launch construction in fall 2018 or spring 2019, with completion by late fall or early winter 2019.
The possibility of a wind energy farm has been years in the making for Shiawassee County, with government officials approving a zoning ordinance in 2008 for regulation of devices such as turbines.
The company believes some residents could see a boon if they sign onto the project.
A property owner with one acre adjacent to a lot containing a turbine could receive around $1,000 a year, Lila said. He estimated over $26 million would be seen by 140 families during the life of the project.
The life span of a wind turbine on average is 20-25 years, Lila said.
Fairfield Township resident and farmer Scott Miller has signed a lease with Apex for part of his farm and called himself a “big proponent” of wind and other forms of renewable energy.
His decision did not come without doing some homework of his own.
Miller traveled to a wind energy farm in Huron County, toured the facilities, spoke with land owners who have and have not signed on for the project.
“I was comfortable with the project and still am comfortable with it,” he said.
But, the issue of land use is a sticking point for Kevon Martis, a former planning commission official for Riga Township, which is near the Ohio border, and founder of the Interstate Informed Citizen’s Coalition.
He’s opposed similar projects in dozens of other communities due to the potential of zoning regulations that could limit building on adjacent properties given the size of the turbines.
“The sheer mass of the devices, something Brad made reference to, gives us pause,” said Martis. “In fact, if Mr. Lila was here proposing building 50 or 60, 600-foot tall billboards I don’t think it would have ever made it this far.”
Mike Bazelides, a Rush Township resident of more than 20 years, moved to Shiawassee County for its rural setting and doesn’t want turbines installed that could be seen for miles.
“I want to protect our area here,” Bazelides said. “People are walking up and down the roads all the time, bicycling, we’re sitting out on our decks. I just think it’s a huge invasion.”
Martis has pushed for a setback of at least 1,640 feet or more for the turbines from property lines and to have Apex negotiate with each homeowner to squelch any potential issues.
A setback determines the amount of space between the turbine and homes, roads, and other occupied buildings to provide a zone in case of an emergency situation and reduce the impact of any light or noise coming from the device to the surrounding area.
“Wind developers ask communities to adopt zoning language that essentially awards free safety and nuisance easement across non-participating property, in other words trespass zoning,” Martis said. “Reasonable wind energy zoning demands that those easements be negotiated privately.”
Assurances on property value should also be made in the case they should decline for land owners if and when the turbines are erected, Martis said.
However, Lila said that request is simply not feasible.
“Show me any other industry that offers property value guarantees,” said Lila. “It’s not within the standard of business in the United States.”
Mike Bruff, a real estate agent and commissioner-elect for Shiawassee County District 1, which includes the townships in the project area, said while home values may remain the same “the ability to sell that home is going to decrease.”
His takeaway from speaking with residents “is predominately negative towards this (project).”
“The density, the population, the visual effects that is has,” said Bruff, along with the setback issue. “Everybody hears about the flicker, the noise, even the vibration. I’m surprised that wasn’t brought up.”
The money being offered to landowners is a draw for some, Bruff said, something he didn’t hold against those in support of the project.
“It pays their taxes,” he said. “It’s hard to blame these farmers, especially if they are struggling farmers to take $1,000 from an adjacent farm.”
The possibility of a moratorium has been floated about by the commission, Bruff said, that would place a hold on any development until zoning and other concerns are ironed out by the legislative body.
Bazelides agreed a moratorium would be a good idea.
“I’d just like to get a good understanding of the impact it’ll have on us and I’m hoping that if the county tries to move forward with this, they (let) all us to vote (on it),” he said.
Miller said the issue has formed its own boundaries among residents, depending on which side of the discussion they fall.
“It’s pretty much people that are in the project are for it and people that are not in the project are against it,” he said. “There’s no grey areas unfortunately.”
With lengthy discussions already having taken place in the townships, county commission, and among residents, approval for the project is not on the immediate horizon.
Peter Preston, director of community development for Shiawassee County, said no application is on file and no site plan for special land use has yet been submitted by Apex.