WHEATLAND TWP. – Waldron Road was crowded with cars on both sides as the Wheatland Township Planning Commission hosted a standing-room only public hearing on Thursday night to discuss the future of the township’s wind ordinance.
While the meeting’s stated purpose was to make a decision on whether or not to change the township’s ordinances regulating wind energy to more closely resemble those of Gratiot County, the bulk of the meeting was devoted to residents arguing the question of whether or not they would be amenable to the construction of windmills in their township.
However, as the ordinances stand, there is nothing to prevent wind energy companies from building in Wheatland.
Representatives from Invenergy, a power generation company with a focus on renewable energy, were on hand to address concerns from skeptical community members. The majority of Wheatland’s residents expressed support for a move toward wind energy, with at least seven residents wearing Invenergy-branded ballcaps.
However, a small, but vocal, minority vehemently opposed the idea, with some even threatening to leave the township if windmills are built.
The concerns were wide-ranging.
″[The rep] who talked to us said there’s two downsides: sound and flicker,” said Wheatland resident, Jackie Richardson. “And he said there’s another downside: in the winter you can’t get closer than 500 feet because they fling ice and it can kill you.”
This is a valid concern. A New York Times article from 2008, enumerates the dangers of icy blades, citing a 2006 report from GE that states that wind turbines may fling “ice fragments some distance from the turbine – up to several hundred meters if conditions are right.”
Another resident worried that they would emit a subsonic noise that could physically harm residents or at least make them irritable. There is, however, no evidence to suggest that the infrasound produced by windmills can cause any kind of damage to humans—it’s similar to the low-level noise produced by the ocean, wind or a person’s own pulse or breath.
Other concerns were matters of taste. Some residents objected to the windmills as an eyesore.
“I don’t want to look at that,” was a repeated complaint from those opposed.
And despite the windmills being quiet, some residents said they aren’t quiet enough.
“Every now and then wouldn’t you like to not hear anything instead of a constant swish,” said Sherri Hardin, a township resident and vocal opponent.
Multiple residents stated that they believed members of the planning commission had a conflict of interest in the decision, given the fact that three of six had already signed on with Invenergy to have their property considered as potential windmill sites.
“Everybody who’s already signed up with Invenergy should not have a vote on the board,” Hardin said.
And, in the end, they didn’t vote, as the Planning Commission pushed their decision to their next regular meeting.
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