MATTESON TOWNSHIP – DTE Energy has been leasing easement rights from property owners in Matteson Township and other Branch County townships.
The easements allow DTE to evaluate the property, as they explore the possibility of developing a wind energy park in the county.
On Wednesday, Matteson Township held a special informational meeting at Chicago Street School. A group of more than 100 gathered to hear the pros and cons on wind energy.
Concerned Citizens of Matteson Township and DTE Energy staff offered the two sides to the issue.
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 has 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 as 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 Energy 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 audience members became argumentative, the planning board kept the meeting moving forward.
Wagner welcomed the audience to meet DTE team members stationed at charts and maps of the local and state-wide projects. More than half of the crowd left during the informal time.
Following the small group interaction, Barnes read questions submitted by audience members.
Questions were mostly directed to DTE. and included: Q: Several focused on wildlife studies of bats and the impact on whitetail deer and turkeys.
A: Bat studies are just starting in Branch County, Wagner said. As for deer, they move away during construction of the site but return when it is competed.
Q: How many turbines is DTE considering for Matteson Township?
A: 60 Q: Why Matteson Township?
A: It’s really ” Why Branch County?” Wagner said.
It’s not the best site in Michigan, but it is a very agricultural area. Wind energy and agriculture are very complementary, he said.
In Branch County, 169 landowners have signed leases with DTE for nearly 28,500 acres, said Cynthia Hecht with DTE Energy.
Q: Why do you have a gag order on those who sign leases?
A: “There is no gag order on our agreement,” he said. They can talk to an attorney or anyone else to understand the ramifications.
Q: What guarantee does DTE provide that decommissioning responsibilities (removing the turbine and equipment) would be carried over to any company that purchases the wind farm in future years?
A: Based on DTE’s history of buying other projects, Wagner said, they assume the obligations and abide by the original contracts.
Q: DTE talked to local leaders but to whom did they talk to, to get permission to proceed?
A: Reed responded that DTE is not required to notify any level of local government where they start signing leases. It is a point of contention with Michigan law for concerned citizens.
Dave Johnson, Matteson Township supervisor, said he and his wife sat down at their kitchen table with a representative seeking lease agreement with farmers “for research purposes only,” but not with DTE officials.
DTE is doing research and the planning board is doing their work, Johnson said.
Q: What is the maximum height of a proposed turbine?
A: In Branch County, 500 feet, Wagner said, most existing DTE turbines are 460 – 495 feet.
″ Turbines perform best where the wind is best,” Wagner said. ” And it’s best higher up.”
Q: Who is liable and financially responsible for dismantlement of substations after the lease is terminated?
A: 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 it’s original state, she said.
The state of 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 their energy supply from wind and solar.
“We believe wind is 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 said, “And we are trying to make you do it right.”
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