SHIAWASSEE COUNTY – On Tuesday, May 8, the Shiawassee County Planning Board unanimously agreed on a new set of more restrictive criteria for wind energy conversion systems (WECS) after several of the more than 200 individuals attending requested more protection under the proposed wind energy ordinance.
After hearing many individuals request more protection and receiving additional information about the dangers of wind turbines, the Shiawassee County Planning Board went through a series of votes to determine where the board agreed on wind turbine specifications. After several votes failed, Commissioner Daniel McMaster proposed a maximum height of 450 feet tall with a setback of 350 percent of the height and a sound level of no more than 45 decibels LMax (maximum sound level). It passed with all seven commissioners in agreement.
The May 8 public hearing was held at Owosso High School to accommodate the large crowd expected. Before the hearing began, McMaster informed the crowd that after that meeting, there wouldn’t be any more changes made to the ordinance during the rest of the month of May. He explained that meetings, starting with the Monday economics meeting, will be held in the county board’s usual meeting room, which has far less seating. He assured everyone that they won’t be making any changes to the WECS ordinance for the rest of the month.
McMaster said he’s hoping for a vote of the full board to decide on the ordinance in August. He explained that the moratorium on wind energy ends June 30, so they may have to extend the moratorium for a few months. But the goal is to be finished with the ordinance in August.
Planning board chairman Bonnie Reno addressed the audience stating, “This board has been open and transparent. This board is committed to developing a fact-based ordinance.” She took issue with people who have accused board members of being paid off. Reno said none of them are being paid by the wind companies.
From the audience, someone shouted that McMaster had previously removed himself due to a conflict of interest. But now he is back on the board. McMaster explained that initially, he had a conflict of interest because one of his clients had a wind contract. But now that individual is no longer a client, he no longer has a conflict of interest.
As the public hearing began, Kevon Martis introduced himself as representing attorney Joshua Nolan on behalf of Regulated Wind of Shiawassee County. He began by acknowledging the hard work that the planning board had already done on developing the wind ordinance. He told the board, “If we preserve the recommendations made (at the March 27 meeting), our objections will go away.”
Martis went on to list the minimum required wind turbine setbacks in other places: France and Germany require one mile; in Manitoba, Canada it’s 6,500 feet; in Illinois it’s 1,500 feet and in Michigan it’s 1,000 feet.
“This ordinance grants developers an easement to do something other (developers) can’t do. A builder who wants to build a 36-foot tall house is prohibited. You already have more stringent regulations against more benign uses. Even along I-69, billboards are limited to 90 feet high,” Martis said.
He talked about the speed wind turbine tips travel, which send ice throw a very long distance, more than a mile.
Later in the meeting, Chairwoman Reno grilled Martis asking, “Who are you affiliated with? Are you a fellow with the Mackinac Center of Public Policy?” To which Martis replied, “I’m here at my own expense. I’m a bi-partisan guy.” He also explained that he was there standing in for Joshua Nolan who represents members of Regulated Wind of Shiawassee County. Nolan was ill and couldn’t attend.
Nick del Zoppo of Tradewind Energy said, “It’s extremely important to expose the anti-wind turbine propaganda. So far as I know, no one was injured by a wind turbine who wasn’t (working for the turbine company). Many people who oppose wind farms fear a drop in property values. There’s no statistical evidence of a drop in property values. It would add tens of thousands of dollars to property owners (contract holders).”
In response to this statement, Shiawassee Planning Board member Thomas Foster asked real estate agent/ county commissioner Mike Bruff, who was in the audience, for a professional opinion. Bruff said, “It’s common sense. I’m 100 percent sure that no one will ever tell me, ‘Please show me a nice ranch near a wind turbine.’ Property values may not go down, but your ability to sell that house might (be delayed or reduce the sale price). We don’t track non-sales, we track sales.”
Ryan Dykstra of Tradewind Energy said, “I implore you all to do your homework. And I assure you that Pete Preston (Shiawassee County) planner is not paid off.”
Nick Coin of Tradewind told the group that he has been signing wind leases. He explained that this hounding of people who sign is why lease owners aren’t coming forward to speak. There is support for wind energy conversion systems.
Brad Pnazek of Tradewind Energy said, “We assume a maximum height of 500 feet. Modern wind turbines are going higher, which means fewer turbines. We are reaching out to everyone in the area. You do need 80 to 90 percent participation to move forward. Our position is the ordinance is sufficient.”
George Hessler cited a 2011 study which recommended decibel (dB) levels of 40 or less. “These recommendations are fully supported by science,” he said. Hessler also talked about shadow flicker saying, “No one has ever said, ‘The light coming through my window is too steady. Could you make it flicker?”
Eugene Allardyce of Hazelton Township said, “The (wind company) is in crisis mode. If they don’t get this built by 2019, the tax breaks expire.”
Mike Koyne said, “Fact, on Nov. 11, 2017, a federal judge rejected the claim of a wind company that sued a township on the basis of exclusionary zoning.” He went on to say, “Zero shadow flicker, 450 percent setback is not exclusionary.”
Rebecca Zemla of Fairfield Township said, “I am requesting additional protection. European guidelines say nighttime dB above 45 harm hearing for a portion of the population.”
Supervisor Jim Sheridan told the county planning board that the Hazelton Township Board recommends wind turbine height not exceed 400 feet, setbacks be a minimum of four times the height or 2,000 feet, no shadow flicker allowed and lights (at night) that are activated by radar.
Jeanie Honke said she supports the ordinance, but requests additional protection. She also expressed concern over blade throw, which she said had been documented at up to two kilometers.
Orlin Stringham said, “I am 100 percent against wind turbines.” He explained that he built a house on the farm that has been in his family for 64 years. “I’m an avid deer hunter. I hope this doesn’t negatively impact the deer population,” Stringham said.
Christine Lostracco talked about a case of property nuisance in the county. She said, “Wind turbines are a greater concern to the people of Shiawassee County. We have requested a good and strong ordinance that fits the need of our citizens, not an ordinance to meet the needs of the wind company.”
Crystal Lostracco said, “My concern is decommissioning. What is it going to leave my children and grandchildren?”
Sharlene Timmons said, “I realize these guys have a hard job to do.” She went on to cite a report from the London School of Economics which stated that the Ontario Superior Court ruled that property values had decreased by 55 percent in value due to wind turbines. She explained that if her home value dropped that much, she would have to wait an additional 12 years to retire.
Wesley Peterman of Maple Grove said, “I am not anti-wind. I am pro health, safety and welfare. If you create a weak ordinance, there will be a referendum.”
Karen Richards of New Lothrop said, “I’m really concerned, though I live within the village of New Lothrop. I’m requesting additional protection. I agree with the decommissioning problem.”
Richards added that a ballot proposal would eliminate the need for board members to recuse themselves.
After the Shiawassee County Planning Board voted tighter restrictions on wind energy conversion systems Martis followed up his earlier statement by saying, “We very much appreciate your putting the needs of the citizens before the needs of the wind companies.”