SHIAWASSEE COUNTY – On Tuesday, March 27, the Shiawassee County Planning Board held a special meeting at Ovid-Elsie High School to review and discuss the proposed wind energy conversion systems (WECS) ordinance and receive public input.
During the meeting, the board worked out a consensus on key aspects of the ordinance, relying somewhat on feedback from the nine township boards that responded to a survey.
The planning board decided that the sound level to the nearest nonparticipating property line must not exceed 45 decibels. Planning board members haggled over the minimum setback for non-participating parties; settling on 325 percent of turbine height. They set the maximum commercial turbine height at 500 feet; with no interference of television, radio or cell phone service.
It should be noted that representatives of Trade Winds Energy also attended the Wednesday, March 28 regularly scheduled planning board meeting, where they expressed concerns about all of the above restrictions.
Once the ordinance is finalized, it will be forwarded to the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners. The commissioners will vote on whether to adopt it.
New Lothrop resident Brina Gross said she lived in Arizona between 2007 and 2014. She ran a licensed daycare about a mile from a wind farm. “The whole community welcomed them. I had horses. I never saw any issues,” Gross said.
Joe Donovan said, “I signed a wind lease. I trust you as the planning commission to approve an ordinance that’s good for everyone involved.”
Mary Eickholt of New Haven Township said, “We have not signed a lease. (But) using farmland for wind (energy) is an acceptable use. There’s no money in our townships. This would greatly benefit our townships.”
Chuck Weisenberger of Chesaning Township said, “It’s going to help the tax base in my community.”
County planning board member Bob Ebmeyer said, “Economically, the shorter the tower, the more wind turbines a company would have to place in an area to generate the desired amount of energy.”
Trade Wind Energy leasing consultant Ryan Dykstra confirmed Ebmeyer’s statement. Dykstra said, “At under 50 decibels, we’re talking about leasing hundreds of acres for a single turbine.”
Approximately 200 people attended the meeting; including township supervisors Bob Corrin of Chesaning, Kevin Krupp of Maple Grove, Jim Sheridan of Hazelton, a couple of Shiawassee County commissioners, several wind leaseholders, representatives of Trade Wind Energy and residents concerned about the adverse impact of allowing wind turbines in their communities.
Shiawassee County land use planner Matthew Lafferty explained that the meeting was held in the Ovid-Elsie High School auditorium because Owosso High School was not available and they knew the county’s regular boardroom would be too small.
The audience was allowed to address the board on the wind turbine issue. (This was before any of the above decisions were made.)
Matthew Shepard said, “We have a wind class of two. Lake Huron has a wind class of six. But the public won’t stand for wind turbines there. The wind turbines will not sustain and put out enough energy.”
Bob Callard of Woodhull Township said, “Fifteen to 20 percent of the population are shown to be affected (by wind turbines). They get insomnia, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, anxiety, headaches and other health problems. A lot of people in this room will be affected.” He explained that back in December (2017), it looked as though the planning board would address those concerns. “But all of those recommendations are (missing from the ordinance). Who are you working for?”
Theresa Bandkau of Owosso Township addressed county planner Pete Preston saying, “You haven’t listened to reason or common sense. Who agreed to this? Who are you working for? Why was Commissioner (Michael) Bruff removed from the planning board? Why now is (Daniel) McMaster on the board? He first recused himself and now, he’s voting. How is there no conflict of interest? We do know that some of your family members have wind (contracts).”
Tim Riegle, who is a trustee for Fairfield Township, said he sees a vast difference between what the ordinance said several months ago and what it says now. “It appears that the planning board has decided this is going to happen. I’m not in favor,” Riegle said.
James Raab said that he moved to the area for its peace and tranquility. “The windmills are encroaching on our lifestyle. You’re giving in to the wind energy companies,” he said.
Mike Koyne, an Ovid-Elsie graduate who served in the Marine Corps said, “I support that every vote counts.” He talked with a farmer who believes farmers should have more say because they have more land. “I disagree with that. We have a constitutional republic on life support. We no longer have a system where every vote counts. It better stop right now,” Koyne said.
Gene Rose said, “All I’ve heard is one person who lived near a wind farm. She lived a mile away. Let’s settle this now and make (the setback) one mile away.”
Toledo attorney Joshua Nolan confronted the planning board members stating that the last time he attended their meeting in August of 2017, they were in the process of writing an ordinance that would protect people. “On or about Dec. 13, that all changed. The citizens were all clamoring for more protection. But somehow, it inexplicably reversed,” he said. Nolan went on to review ordinance changes that concerned him. The newly revised ordinance took away the county’s right to choose an acoustical tester who would determine whether or not the wind turbines are in compliance.
Nolan informed the group that a federal court judge recently ruled in favor of Almer Township in Tuscola County. The Almer Township wind energy ordinance set the maximum noise level at 45 decibels. The wind company sued the township, saying 45 decibels was exclusionary. However, the judge said the wind company has the opportunity to lease more ground. Nolan told the planning board that if they changed the ordinance (from 55 decibels) to 45 decibels, there is case law to support it. As far as setback, Nolan said, “The vast majority require 300 percent or greater; 400 percent is reasonable as well. The staff is recommending 200 percent. To force someone to live 1,100 feet from a wind turbine is borderline criminal. You’re forcing people to live in the danger zone.”
“There was zero shadow flicker in the ordinance; now it’s 24 hours (per year),” Nolan pointed out. This change would force residents to keep log books and record video of violations. “It’s an enforcement nightmare.” He said there is technology available that shuts down the turbines at times when shadow flicker is a problem.
Nolan argued that the wind turbine decommissioning language “takes away the authority of the county.” The change in the surety bond changed from a one-year review to a five year +review. “There’s now a cap on the decommissioning bond. Why take away your authority to protect your residents?” he asked. The liability insurance requirements were also removed.
Nolan said, “Every single township requested more protection.”
Peter Sinclair of Midland said, “It is the cheapest source of energy. Dow Chemical is buying wind. It’s a clean energy revolution. It’s hard to understand why there’s still push back.”
Trade Wind Energy senior development manager Brad Pnazek said, “A lot of things can be mitigated, like shadow flicker. Setbacks, we’ve heard all the horror stories about blade throw. It rarely happens.”
Michael Hankard, who is an acoustics engineer, said, “I like your original 45 decibel (limit), but 50 decibels is excellent.” He said, “Most wind turbine noise is lower than humans can hear. But sometimes the loudest hour (can be annoying). There is no question that one person can be annoyed by wind turbines. There is no wind turbine syndrome. I’m not worried about that.” He asserted that people might not like wind turbines, but they don’t cause insomnia. See “Wisconsin Wind Turbines Declared Health Hazard” at www.michigancapitolconfidential.com.
Preston addressed the audience explaining, “When we reviewed the additional recommendations, we didn’t have input from companies wanting to lease.” He explained that the planning commission had modified portions of the wind ordinance several times in the process of writing it. “We looked at other counties, most recently Isabella. We recognize the rights of property owners. Property owners should not be restricted from using their property. We took into account multiple interests,” he said.
Now that the planning board has set limits for sound, wind turbine height and setback, it will be reviewed by legal council before sending it on to the county board. Preston also said, “It’s going to be an enforcement nightmare.”