A standing-room-only crowd is expected at the Isabella County Planning Commission meeting Thursday for a public hearing on zoning amendments for wind energy conservation systems.
It isn’t what some are discussing on social media, according to Community Development Director Tim Nieporte, who said there are not currently applications from any wind turbine companies to locate in any of the townships that the county zones.
Rather, Nieporte said, planning commissioners are going to discuss amendments to current zoning to add more regulations and modify existing regulations for any future wind farms.
Noting that the county is not “anti wind energy,” Nieporte said most of the amendments being discussed involve increasing setbacks and decommissioning, or making provisions for removal of any turbines after they are no longer in use.
“We do amendments all the time,” Nieporte said. “That’s what the process is.
“It’s not a hearing for any particular applicant.”
Proposed amendments to the current ordinance also include adding a construction timeline; a detailed description of the complaint resolution process developed by the applicant to resolve complaints from nearby residents concerning the construction or operation of the turbines; and noise not to exceed 55 decibels from the nearest structure, instead of the current ordinance that measures to the nearest property line.
Isabella County already has some regulatory measures in ordinances passed in 2008, about the same time that wind turbines were built in Gratiot County, Nieporte said.
Isabella County zones in 11 townships – Coldwater, Gilmore, Sherman, Vernon, Nottawa, Isabella, Denver, Broomfield, Lincoln and Rolland; township boards in the others provide their own zoning services.
Nieporte has heard about rumors and discussions on social media, which includes allegations that the zoning amendments, if approved, will make Isabella County one of the most lenient in the state for wind turbine companies.
A group called the “Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition” has posted on social media an “urgent” message about the planning commission revising the current utility scale wind turbine zoning regulations.
Among the concerns raised by the coalition is that Isabella County would be able to build 600-foot tall turbines 600 feet from neighboring property lines and produce 55 decibels of night noise “in quiet rural areas of Isabella County that typically enjoy night time noise levels of only 25 decibels.”
APEX Clean Energy of Virginia has proposed a massive wind development for Isabella County that would include Wise, Vernon, Nottawa, Isabella, Denver and Deerfield Townships for the first phase, according to the group.
If that’s the case, the company has not yet applied for any development in any of the townships the county zones.
Coalition members are concerned with noise, but Nieporte said most turbine companies operate at less than 55 decibels, which he said not disturbingly loud.
Nieporte, who said he has spoken to five or six wind power providers, noted that the planning commission at some point must also address zoning for solar power.
Representatives from solar power firms have also discussed bringing that industry to Isabella County, Nieporte said.
Saying that much of the social media discussions are speculations on the part of the public, Nieporte said planning commissioners want to put in place regulations so any wind turbine company that comes to Isabella County in the future must follow the regulations the county adopts.
Coalition members said on social media that most Michigan communities have adopted wind turbine regulations that measure turbine noise at property lines and limit that noise to 35-45 decibels, and that most ordinances are requiring that wind turbines be set back 1,320 to 2,500 feet from property lines of people who have not leased their property to the wind company.
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