One month after an Isabella County Planning Commission meeting, Apex Clean Energy is working on several issues as it prepares to make its wind farm in Isabella County a reality.
If all goes as planned, Apex expects to begin the groundwork to install wind turbines in mid- to late summer of this year, with installation of the turbines themselves planned for 2020, according to Albert Jongewaard, senior manager for public engagement for Apex.
The project is not without its critics. In Wise Township, a petition was submitted to have a voter referendum on the township’s new wind-energy ordinance.
Township Clerk Doris Methner said a petition was submitted with 119 signatures calling for a referendum on the ordinance. Three were deemed invalid, but it still met the 81-signature threshold and the question will be placed before township voters.
She said the soonest it will be on the ballot is August.
In the meantime, the township’s latest ordinance, which was scheduled to take effect in February, is on hold.
The referendum will be for the entire ordinance, not just a part of it, Methner said.
Apex has lease agreements with property owners in six townships in Isabella County: Denver, Wise, Vernon, Gilmore, Nottawa and Isabella. Wise Township is the only one with its own zoning; Isabella County handles zoning for the others.
Jongewaard recently discussed the Isabella Wind project with the Morning Sun, answering a series of questions. Readers are invited to submit more questions to the Morning Sun about the project for a future q and a.
On Jan. 31, the Isabella County Planning Commission approved a special use permit application with numerous conditions that Apex must meet. In the weeks since, Apex has been working on several aspects of that.
“There were a series of conditions, that we anticipated. We are taking steps internally to meet those conditions. We are conducting some additional reviews and studies,” Jongewaard said. “We will show we are in compliance with the ordinance beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
FAA seeks input
One of the big issues the Planning Commission was concerned with is what the Federal Aviation Administration might do, if anything.
Jongewaard said the company had to file with the FAA and undergo a review process. There is additional review if the towers are above 500 feet, which they will be.
“We feel pretty confident, based on all of our studies, our initial work, that we aren’t going to run into problems with this review process,” Jongewaard said.
For the Isabella Wind project, the total tip height will be less than 600 feet.
The FAA sent letters to local airports, including Mt. Pleasant and privately owned air strips, requesting that they submit any comments they might have as far as the wind-turbine project and its impact.
In Mt. Pleasant, City Manager Nancy Ridley said she is discussing it with the airport manager. She will have a recommendation ready for the City Commission at its March 11 meeting regarding what the city should say in its communication to the FAA.
Roads, turbines and making it a reality
“There is no official timeline, but our goal is, and frankly has always been, to start the construction process this calendar year,” Jongewaard said.
One of the first steps will be roadwork, he said.
Preliminary work for the turbines, such as getting into the fields and digging foundations, is expected to start in mid to late summer.
The turbines themselves would then start going up in 2020.
“A lot of the initial work to prepare for the turbines would be done in this calendar year,” Jongewaard said.
Apex has a road-use agreement with the Isabella County Road Commission, he said.
One of the first steps will be determining what roads will be used during the construction process.
“Once we understand which roads those are, then we need to figure out where road improvements need to be made and start that process before we can start hauling in heavy equipment,” he said.
Roadwork could involve several things, such as adding access roads on the properties, widening turn lanes on existing county roads, and assessing if the roads need any enhancement to handle the heavy equipment that will be traveling on them.
Apex will pay for any needed roadwork, according to Jongewaard.
A big concern for the Planning Commission was shadows caused by the turbines. The shadows are noticeable at certain times of day inside a house, for example, and can be a distraction for the residents.
As part of its conditional special use permit, Apex needs to address this issue.
Under the county’s regulations, a turbine cannot generate more than 30 hours of shadows in a year.
Jongewaard said Apex is using “elaborate computer modeling” to do an analysis based on conditions that are most likely to generate shadows: all sunshine (no clouds), flat terrain, no trees or pole barns to block the shadows, and a house that is entirely made of glass. This analysis gives them an idea of how significant the problem is for each location.
“That gives us a detailed breakdown for 365 days a year, down to the minute, of what the potential will be for that turbine to cast a shadow on nearby houses,” he said.
Based on those results, Apex might opt to not put a turbine in a specific location or to take steps to mitigate the shadow, such as turning the turbine off at certain times.
“The real world conditions are very different from the theoretical scenario but it is used to understand worst case conditions and then what we need to do to mitigate or move the turbine locations,” Jongewaard said.
How many turbines? How many leases?
Jongewaard said there would be a maximum of 175 turbines.
In all, the company has signed up more than 50,000 acres across all six townships.
More than 600 leases have been signed.
Those properties range from “a half acre and a house all the way up to 1,000 acres,” Jongewaard said.
The company estimates it will pay $100 million total to the lease-holders over the life of the project.
Apex also estimates that over the life of the project, it will generate at least $30 million in tax revenue for the various units of government, such as the county, school districts, etc.
Where will the energy go?
Once it’s up and running, the project will have the ability to generate up to 385 megawatts of electricity at any given time.
Apex is building a new substation in Midland County, near the Isabella County line, under heavy-duty transmission lines that already exist. Those lines serve northern Isabella County and up into the Clare area.
“We are going to insert the electricity that we generate into the grid right there at that point. Once those electrons, that energy, goes into the grid, you can’t really tell an electron where to go. But that means that a lot of that electricity is absolutely going to be used in the local area or regionally. I like to think that when our project is up and running that (electricity) that is generated right in Isabella County is going to be used to power people’s homes, people’s farms, businesses, the manufacturing industry … that power is going to be used here locally,” Jongewaard said.
Some of the electricity could be purchased by companies, such as Ford and GM.
What will it look like five years from now?
“Five years from now, I think the tax benefits will be realized by the community,” Jongewaard said. “I suspect that the people who have concerns in the local area and they aren’t sure quite what to make of it, I think if the experience in Gratiot County says anything, a lot of people down there who were opposed to the project on the front end, have since come to realize that now ‘this isn’t that bad, these things aren’t that loud. They have done good things for our community.’”
Jongewaard expects that Isabella County and other entities will have the money generated from the taxes and will be putting that to use in their budgets.
In addition, Apex will be hiring turbine technicians, who will work and live in the local communities.
“I think five years from now, there will be exciting things happening in Isabella County,” Jongewaard said.
The project is for 30 years. What happens then?
Apex has lease agreements with property owners for the life of the project, which is expected to be 30 years.
Jongewaard said that when that time is up, there will be two scenarios.
One will be that the turbines will continue. The other is that the turbines will be decommissioned.
In the first scenario, Jongewaard said the company would be looking at what was necessary to keep the turbines running and in good shape.
In the second scenario, decommissioning them, Apex would be responsible for taking them down. Apex would pay the cost of doing so.
What are the advantages of the wind farm?
“One of the first thing I would say, is just take a couple steps back. The reason we’re here in the first place is the state of Michigan is in the process of shutting down its coal plants and transforming the way it produces electricity,” Jongewaard said.
He noted many coal plants were built in the 1940s, with the expectation they would last 40, 50 or 60 years. They are expensive to operate and raise environmental concerns.
“That is one of the reasons we are here in the first place. The other reason is the market is really kind of driving this transition and technology. As we shut down these coal plants, we obviously need to replace that lost electricity if we want to maintain our manufacturing base and power our lights, and all these things… For the last 10 years or less, we’ve seen the cost of wind energy come down dramatically. Wind is oftentimes the cheapest source of utility-scale energy generation that we have.”
For Isabella County, wind energy can help farmers. “It’s a drought-resistant crop at the end of the day,” Jongewaard said. “We know how challenging it can be to be a farmer.”
There also is revenue from the taxes the project will generate in the form of industrial personal property taxes. This revenue will go the county, school districts and other entities.
He estimated that over the life of the project it will generate more than $30 million in tax revenue.
The company also makes improvements to the local electrical grid structure, which Jongewaard said might be a factor in other businesses wanting to locate in the area.
Jongewaard said Apex staff is available to answer any questions or discuss concerns that residents might have.
The company has an office at 4040 James St. in Rosebush, near the Post Office. Office hours are 3 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, noon to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays and 9 a.m. until noon on Friday. The phone number is 989-884-0861. If no one answers, you can leave a voicemail.
In addition, the Morning Sun is inviting readers to submit their questions for a possible q and a follow-up to this article. Questions may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org with “wind turbines” in the subject line.
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