DTE Energy has been leasing easement rights from property owners in Matteson Township and other Branch County townships as the company explores the possibility of developing a wind energy park.
On Wednesday, Matteson Township held a special meeting at Chicago Street School, where more than 100 gathered to hear about the pros and cons of wind energy.
Some residents in Matteson Township and DTE Energy staff offered two sides of the topic.
The Matteson Township planning board, led by Jim Eash and Kevin Barnes, moderated the meeting.
The township has a one-year moratorium, Eash said. It is a temporary prohibition of infrastructure activity to allow the township time to develop zoning laws.
DTE, still in the initial phases of the Branch County project, continues to seek landowner leases allowed by law.
Pam Reed, speaking for the citizens committee, discussed concerns raised by residents. Using a DTE Energy myth vs. facts sheet, she added a third category: reality.
Reed discussed the negative impact of wind turbines on quality of life of residents, including decreased property values, noise levels, health issues, wildlife and crops.
Matt Wagner of DTE responded briefly to some of Reed’s points. He noted DTE’s commitment to environmental stewardship, the positive economic impact of local tax revenue and financial advantage to owners who lease the land.
When some audience members became argumentative, the planning board kept the meeting moving forward.
Wagner invited those in attendance to meet DTE team members stationed at charts and maps showing local and statewide projects.
More than half of the people left during the informal time.
Following small-group interaction, Barnes read questions submitted by the community. Among the information shared:
n Focus on wildlife studies of bats and the impact on whitetail deer and turkeys. Wagner said bat studies are just beginning in Branch County. As for deer, they move away during construction of the site, but return when it is complete.
n DTE is considering 60 turbines for Matteson Township.
n Why Matteson Township? The question is closer to “why Branch County?” Wagner said. “It’s not the best site in Michigan, but it is very agricultural area.” Wind energy and agriculture are very complementary, he said.
n Some questioned gag orders on those who sign leases. Wagner said there is no gag order on the agreement. “They can talk to an attorney or anyone else to understand the ramifications,” he said.
n What guarantee does DTE provide that decommissioning responsibilities (removing the turbine and equipment) would be carried over to a company that purchases the wind farm in future years? Based on DTE’s history of buying other projects, Wagner said they assume the obligations and abide by the original contracts.
n Reed said DTE is not required to notify any level of local government when they start signing leases. It is a point of contention with Michigan law for concerned residents. Dave Johnson, Matteson Township supervisor, said he and his wife sat down at their kitchen table with a representative seeking lease agreements with farmers “for research purposes only,” but not with a DTE officials. DTE is doing research and the planning board is doing its work, Johnson said.
n The maximum height of a proposed turbine in Branch County is 500 feet, Wagner said. Most existing DTE turbines are between 460 and495 feet. “Turbines perform best where the wind is best,” Wagner said, “and it’s best higher up.“
n Who is liable and financially responsible for dismantlement of substations after the lease is terminated? DTE is required to assure restoration of the land, Wagner said. And they post a surety bond if DTE were to “go under.” Reed responded that paperwork requires them to remove concrete only to a four-foot depth. That is not restoring the land to its original state, she said.
Michigan has a renewable energy mandate requiring energy providers to supply a percentage of electricity from renewable sources by 2022.
Wagner said DTE is doing away with coal-fired energy because the plants are beyond their useful life.
To replace that energy, DTE is planning for 30 percent of its energy supply from wind and solar.
“We believe wind is an important – not the only thing – but a cost-effective component of energy generation,” he said.
Toward the end of the three-hour meeting, Wagner said, “Ultimately we have to work with you and do a project that works for both sides. We are trying to do it right.“
Reed responded: “And we are trying to make you do it right.“
So far in Branch County, 169 landowners have signed leases with DTE for nearly 28,500 acres, said Cynthia Hecht of DTE Energy.