CORUNNA – In a move supported by opponents of proposed wind energy projects in Shiawassee County – but criticized by turbine company representatives as unworkable – the county board’s Committee of the Whole moved Wednesday to advance restrictive changes to the county’s ordinance regulating wind turbines.
The vote, which was unanimous, came before a crowd packed into commissioners’ chambers in the Surbeck Building, with so many seated that others were left to stand.
The matter will be addressed again at today’s full board meeting, where, if approved, will become final.
“I don’t feel that our vote has killed this project. I feel that where there’s a will, there’s a way. There may not be as much money to be made, but businesses keep going,” Board Chairman Jeff Bartz said after the vote. “We listened to the planning commission … none of us are experts on this, but the planning commission was unanimous and we were unanimous. I don’t think this is over, but we did what we needed to do.”
The amendments restrict the height, sound level, setbacks and other issues related to development of turbines. County officials have examined the issues over the past 11/2 years since news of wind turbine developments in Shiawassee County first were proposed.
The same amendments advanced by the committee of the whole Wednesday previously were approved by the county planning commission. Among the rules adopted by the planning commission:
n The acceptable noise level from a turbine was set at 45 decibels, measured from a “non-participating” property line – meaning property for which the owner has not signed an agreement with a wind energy company. The current ordinance allows 55 decibels.
n A wind turbine would have to be set back 350 percent of its height from the property line of a non-participating owner. Currently, the setback is 150 percent of the tower’s height. An earlier draft of the ordinance called for a 325-percent setback.
n Turbines would have to be designed, placed and operated in a way that does not produce “shadow flicker” on a non-participating parcel of land. An earlier draft of the ordinance allowed for up to 20 hours of shadow flicker per year. The current rule doesn’t address shadow flicker.
n A wind turbine can be no taller than 450 feet. An earlier draft of the ordinance allowed for 500-foot-tall turbines. The current ordinance allows for 600-foot turbines.
Theresa Bandkau, an Owosso Township resident and member of the citizens group Regulated Wind of Shiawassee County, which favors strict regulations of wind turbines, said she was pleased with the committee’s vote.
“I think they have agreed that we’ve spent a year and a half going through the whole ordinance with the planning board,” Bandkau said. “The wind companies presented their side, the citizens who are concerned with peer-reviewed, scientific evidence gave their side, and the board came in the middle. I don’t think either side got what they wanted, so I think it’s a fair ordinance.”
Brad Pnazek, a senior development manager with Tradewind Energy, said at one time, three different wind companies were interested in developing in Shiawassee County, but the rules that have been debated in recent months have reduced interest from everyone except Tradewind.
He said the rules approved by the committee Wednesday, particularly regarding height, will effectively keep turbines out of Shiawassee County.
He suggested the amendment be altered to allow for at least 500-foot-tall turbines.
“What they have put in place with this ordinance, for what developers are doing today, it’s not going to be feasible,” Pnazek said after the vote. “I know some remarks were said, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ Well, I would say, the way they voted, there is no ‘way,’ with technology being the way it is today. There are too many constraints.”
More than 10 people spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, some in favor of the amendments and others opposed to them.
They rehashed talking points that have become familiar over the past several months.
A few farmers said wind turbines presented an opportunity for business development in what is a difficult period for the agriculture business.
Meanwhile, residents of the area in the project’s footprint – Middlebury, Owosso, Fairfield and Rush townships – said negative issues regarding personal health, the environment and property values can be traced to wind turbine developments.
The county is under a moratorium on development of wind energy projects, which blocks companies from applying for the necessary permits to build turbines which expires this month.
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