NORTH BRANCH TWP. – More than 150 filled a meeting room at North Branch Wesleyan Church Tuesday (Feb. 19) night to hear the other side of the wind energy debate.
Last month the North Branch Township Hall meeting room was standing room only for a presentation by three wind energy experts invited in by township supervisor Gary Swoish.
However, Michelle Peel, whose son suffers from several seizure disorders, was unconvinced and suspicious of the experts whose travel expenses were paid for by DTE Energy.
Peel invited Kevon Martis of Blissfield, who is a senior policy fellow at the Energy and Environment Legal Institute in Washington, D.C., and several township officials from communities north of Lapeer to present their views of wind energy.
It was a decidedly different view of the hotly contested topic than the January presentation.
Martis told the audience that wind costs too much, takes up too much space and makes too much noise.
Martis maintains that electricity generated by natural gas is more reliable, costs less and has less of an environmental impact.
He said that while Huron County was an early adopter of wind energy projects, residents there have soured on them. He cautioned North Branch-area residents that’s why utility companies have turned their attention to them.
Ford Motor Company and DTE announced Thursday and Ford has agreed to purchase 500,000 megawatt hours of locally sourced Michigan wind energy through DTE’s MIGreenPower program.
The utility also hosted a visit by Peter Sinclair, an award-winning Michigan videographer who specializes in energy and environmental issues, at the Deerfield Township Hall Friday evening. Sinclair was set to talk about how wind energy benefits rural communities.
Martis told North Branch-area residents that after DTE spent $875,000 on promoting a wind energy project in Sand Beach Township and locals spent $3,700 opposing it, 63-percent of the voters said no.
He said zoning ordinances can be anything a local community wants and noted that while most Michigan ordinances restrict shadow flicker from wind turbines to 30 hours a year, Europeans cut that to just eight hours.
Martis said that while a 1,000- foot setback from homes is common in Michigan, France has a 5,280-foot setback and Riverside, Calif. has a 10,560-foot setback.
Citing Oliver Wendell Holmes saying, “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins,” Martis said wind energy developers have been asking townships for uncompensated easements by asking for setbacks from homes, rather than property lines.
He said in his home township, trustees have put the setback from neighboring property lines for wind turbines at four times their height.
Mike Pattello, an official from Ellington Township, said of the 10 planning commission and township officials who voted in favor of wind energy in 2016, none of them are still in office. He cautioned that if a developer refuses to release its safety manual, claiming their proprietary material, then local officials should make their ordinance as restrictive as possible to protect residents.
Mike Lorencz, Brookfield Township’s clerk for 18 years, said wind turbines have not been the tax benefit they were first claimed since they are personal property and not real property.
Mark Williams, a North Branch real estate appraiser, said wind turbines can be good and bad at the same time. He said while some people may not like the way they look and sound, for others it will provide an income stream.
Officials in Hadley Township are contemplating a wind energy ordinance that would measure setbacks from the property line.
North Branch’s decision is still months off.
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