SIDNEY – Montcalm County could soon be seeing a serious increase in renewable energy.
On Monday, Montcalm County Controller-Administrator Bob Clingenpeel spoke to the Montcalm Community College (MCC) Board of Trustees, informing them about the rise of renewable energy in Montcalm County and the ways in which MCC can become further involved with it.
“A lot of programs and initiatives that are happening at MCC are absolutely critical in furthering Montcalm County as a viable place for economic development,” Clingenpeel said. “Most people don’t even realize it, but they soon will.”
First, Clingenpeel spoke about solar energy and how it’s becoming more and more prevalent in Montcalm County.
According to Clingenpeel, there are currently three solar farms within the county – one in Howard City, one in Richland Township and one in an undisclosed location. It’s not unlikely for even more to pop-up in the coming years, either.
This form of renewable energy, Clingenpeel believes, is incredibly cost-effective for landowners and farmers alike.
“Typically, if you told any farmer that he could make $1,500 an acre, he’d love it,” Clingenpeel said. “Solar companies, right now, are writing contracts for roughly $2,000 to $2,500 an acre, and you don’t have to touch anything.”
Clingenpeel also spoke about wind turbines and how they, too, will likely become an increasingly common sight.
“We’re next. It doesn’t matter if we want to be or not, but wind turbines are coming,” he said. “In the world of wind turbines, so much case law has been written in the last five or ten years in the state of Michigan. You don’t even need county-wide or township zoning to do this. Typically, what the companies do is talk to the landowner, the landowner signs a lease and that’s it.”
Based on research from Gratiot County, which is home to the largest wind farm in Michigan, most companies annually pay landowners roughly $10,000 for allowing a wind turbine on their property through these leases.
“Gratiot County farmers will tell you the biggest things they had to do was change the way they planted their fields,” Clingenpeel said. “They usually put (the turbine) on the field edge, which means there’s now a high-grade gravel road running along the field edge that they use every day in their farming operations, which is perfectly fine with the turbine companies. All they lose is a half-acre of land for the turbine.”
The landowner doesn’t have to pay any extra property tax for the turbine either, apart from a slight increase due to the newly installed gravel road, given that the company would technically be the ones who own the structure.
Wind turbine companies could, however, generate significant amounts of tax revenue for the county.
“It doesn’t help everyone equally. For example, if there aren’t any turbines in Day Township, Day Township won’t get anything,” Clingenpeel warned. “Yet, we’re in the Central Montcalm District right now, which means that if there were a fair amount of wind turbines, the nearby municipalities and schools would see the tax dollars. Gratiot County gets about $200,000 a year, just from turbine money.”
After Clingenpeel cleared up a few myths about wind turbines, telling the board that they don’t generate a lot of noise and are typically friendly towards wildlife, MCC President Bob Ferrentino asked the question that was on many of the trustee’s minds.
“So, how do we go about getting 20 of these on our property?” he joked.
Clingenpeel explained that it really comes down to luck and patience, as most landowners have to first be approached by an interested wind turbine company before a lease can be signed.
Being approached by one of these companies isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility though, Clingenpeel notes.
“If you’re a landowner with significant acreage, they will find you,” he said. “(The companies) have been very active with our deeds and searching properties. They have all that information.”
With some companies already having started these preliminary conversations with Montcalm County landowners, Clingenpeel then estimates it’s only a matter of time before wind turbines begin to go up.
“We have three companies here ready to go,” he said. “They’re beyond the ‘Hey, where is Montcalm County?’ stage. They’re here, boots on the ground, talking to people. The chances of all three companies backing out isn’t going to happen. Tax-wise, the way all of that happens, I’m going to say we’re probably two years down the road. We could see our first turbine by next summer, though, depending on which company starts the quickest.”
While no action was taken by the Board of Trustees at this time, MCC remains hopeful that they might be able to enter into talks with wind turbine companies in the near future.
“Tell them not to overlook the landowners right here in Sidney Township,” Connie Stewart, MCC Vice President for Administrative Services, said.
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