A wind turbine issue has divided Ingersoll Township – those that realize the financial and environmental benefit derived from turbines against those that are concerned about what wind turbines would do to the health, safety and welfare of the township.
Thursday night, a crowd of interested citizens filled the Bullock Creek High School cafeteria to learn more about the issue. Sponsored by the Ingersoll Township Concerned Citizens, the focus of the “Wind Energy Informational” meeting was the negative effect of wind turbines.
“I’m so sorry how this wind division has beset your community and creeped in. Finding a way that everyone in a community is at peace with wind turbines has been elusive,” said Kevon Martis, director of Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition.
The wind turbine issue sprouted when Detroit Edison (DTE) approached township landowners about placing wind turbines on their property. The Ingersoll Township board and planning commission proceeded to discuss the issue last March at an emotionally charged town hall meeting.
Originally on the agenda, Rep. Gary Glenn, who serves as the chair of House Energy Committee, was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting. Instead his wife, Annette, read a letter verbatim from her husband.
“As long as I serve as chairman of the House Energy Committee, the committee will not consider legislation that in any way eliminates or diminishes local control and decision-making authority regarding the development of industrial wind projects in your township,” Rep. Glenn wrote.
Glenn also wrote that he would try to advance legislation to repeal the mandate found in state law requiring that 15 percent of the electricity generated in Michigan must be generated from so-called renewable sources such as wind and solar power.
State Rep. Roger Hauck, who represents Ingersoll Township and is vice-chair of the House Energy Committee, echoed everything that Annette Glenn read.
“I also hope that we can still be friends and neighbors because I’ve seen how this divides a community,” Hauck added to Thursday’s crowd.
However, it was Martis who was Thursday’s keynote speaker, as he brought a zoning background to the meeting.
“The truth of this from a zoning perspective is that you have tall, noisy structures that need to be situated in a community that is filled with human beings living in residences. We have to accommodate those in the community in a way that protects health, safety and welfare,” he said.
He also said DTE would like to maximize its return on investment.
“It is not their job to protect the health, welfare and safety of your community. Only the planning commission has that responsibility,” Martis said.
Unfortunately, most planning commissions lack knowledge regarding wind turbines and often negotiate making sure that the contract is agreeable to the energy companies, Martis said.
“The township board is the government and has all the powers of government and what they put into law the wind companies have to abide,” Martis said. “If they don’t like it, their only option is to move on.”
Martis also addressed potential revenue.
“All the revenue they give back to the communities is recovered from your utility bills. There is no free lunch,” he said. “A very small subset of farmers get some sort of benefit and they are not all farmers, some of them are large landowners. A lot of communities have found out at tax tribunals that the promises of the wind companies are not binding.”
Martis recommended a 1,640-foot setback of turbines from property lines, not houses.
“Two safety manuals from Vestas and Nordex, large turbine companies, state that in case of a fire, people should run away 500 meters, or 1,640 feet,” he said. “So, 1,640 feet seems like a reasonable amount.”
But, he went on to explain that DTE has been calling people in Beaver Township in Bay County and telling them that there is no scientific basis for the 1,640-foot setback.
Martis also recommended that townships adopt a two-stage setback ordinance instead of allowing the planning commission and board to formulate an ordinance. The two-stage plan adopts large setbacks to a property line and small setbacks to a leased house.
“Then every one of you has to be approached by the wind company,” he said. “Every one of you has equal footing and gets to decide your own amenity of loss from wind turbines instead of the planning commission.”
Following Martis, retired Dow Chemical employee David Moll added that the setbacks from wind turbines are comparable to lifeboats on a ship. Under normal conditions, none are needed. But, in a catastrophe, they are a necessity.
Martis added that he has seen property value loss anywhere from 11 percent to 40 percent because of the addition of wind turbines.
The Ingersoll Planning Commission will continue its formation of a township wind turbine ordinance at its next meeting on Monday, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m. in the Ingersoll Township Hall.
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