SHERWOOD TOWNSHIP – On Tuesday, DTE explained to the Sherwood Planning Commission what they should expect if a proposed wind turbine farm is built in Branch County.
Chairman Don Esch said the commission will hold a special meeting to begin working on an ordinance to regulate wind turbines to protect “safety, health, and welfare of township residents.”
The planning commission heard from opponents of turbines at two prior meetings, and limited the presentation to one opposition letter and DTE.
Esch said the commission received form letters from residents on both sides of the wind farm issue.
Michael Sage, head of wind energy for the Detroit area power company, said the firm is several years from putting a project in the northwest regions of Branch County, an area selected for a possible wind farm.
Sage said, “this is the very early phase of the project.”
DTE has signed leases for 22,000 acres of land as potential sites. The target is 40,000 acres for 50 to 60 turbines.
“We are still getting parcels,” Sage said. “The lake areas are out.”
The company is looking for farm land.
Under the leases, most of the land, except the footprint of the tower, can still be farmed.
DTE usually places one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half turbines on a section of land. Because of the types of permitting required, there are often few locations, in wind farm areas, that can be utilized. The company does not lease land that is less than 20 acres.
For those with smaller parcels, DTE is now offering a participation agreement that would pay approximately $25,000, over a 25 year program, even though the land would not be leased.
Sage would not give exact numbers since, he said, the participation program is still under development.
Sage added, “the evaluation (for a wind farm) can last up to 10 years.”
There are some proposed projects, still under evaluation after 10 years, in which the company is still making annual lease payments.
Even though federal tax credit programs are ending, state green energy requirements, and company policy, are pushing wind.
DTE recently announced it will reduce its carbon emissions by 2050 when it closes its last coal plant and builds new non-renewable natural-gas plants. The company intends to increase renewable generation to 30 percent by 2030.
The west Branch County area was selected for two reasons.
The first is the location of ITC power grid lines, which will be needed to connect to the grid.
The company cannot build in an area where the regional grid transmission company, ITC-METC in Michigan, does not have the line capacity to transmit the generated power. That decision will not come until the final project is designed.
The second is the wind.
While the region is not optimal, Sage said changes in technology allow “the lower speeds to be utilized for wind turbines.”
It can reach 70 mph at the 325 foot level of the turbines, but he said “the sweet spot is 20 mph.”
Above 45 mph, the turbines are stopped.
All the turbines are remotely monitored, 24/7. The company employs one local technician per 10 turbines to provide maintenance. Each turbine is electronically secured and monitored.
Complaints of fire danger from the oil, 80 to 100 gallons in the turbine head, are minimal. New types of oil will allow longer use and less danger. Sage said the company will have special fire response units available to respond to any calls.
Turbines and accessory property are taxed at 100 percent value the first year, and are reduced to 30 percent valuation over nine years.
It will never go below 30 percent during the estimated 30 year lifespan of a wind turbine.
DTE has a major farm, of 277 turbines, in Gratiot County that has been operating just over one year. Sage said there have been few complaints, “and we do what we can to fix those.”
In Ithaca, the Greater Gratiot (County) Development Authority showed DTE paid a total of $30.3 million in taxes in 2016. Of this, $1.6 million went to the county general fund. Seven townships received between $18,408 to $1.3 million in the first year. School districts and special milages also receive tax revenues.
After complaints were raised that turbines lower property values, Sage said he has other studies that show, overall, there is not a reduction of property values near wind farms.
Local governments cannot ban wind turbines, but can enact “reasonable regulations.”
Setbacks from property lines and other buildings is the most frequently used regulation. DTE would like to see setbacks at one-and-a-half times the height, usually up to 490 feet to the tip of a turbine blade.
Esch said he felt that was too little, and would consider a greater set back. The commission will also consider a bond for future removal.
Sage said the company puts a decommissioning fund in place, with bonds to ensure money to remove turbines when they are no longer used. This is adjusted for inflation every five years.
Health related issues should also be considered.
Blade “flicker,” the passing of the blade as it turns in front of the sun during certain times, has caused complaints near some projects.
Others have complained about the low noise of the blade going through the air. Noise limits are suggested.
Various studies show contradictory reports on how wind turbines affect the population, environment, and economy. While Sherwood, Matteson, Batavia, Bethel, Ovid, Algansee and Quincy Townships consider wind turbine zoning regulations, four townships in Branch County – Union, Noble, Bronson and California – do not have zoning regulations. Leases have been signed by DTE in the first three.