WHEATLAND TWP. – Plans to construct a 166-megawatt commercial wind farm in Hillsdale County have some residents up in arms.
On Tuesday, upwards of two dozen protestors gathered outside Wheatland Township Hall to picket before a board of trustees meeting. They carried signs expressing their opposition to the project, which would see an unknown number of wind turbines erected in Adams, Moscow and Wheatland townships.
Chris Pollard, one of the organizers behind Tuesday’s demonstration, said his group, which call themselves the “Informed Citizens of Wheatland Township,” are opposed to wind turbines being constructed in the township for a variety of reasons. He cited the appearance of the turbines, the close proximity in which they could be installed to property owners who don’t want them, and fears of noise and other disturbances as reasons they aren’t wanted locally.
Laurie Lapham, another resident who took part in the protest, said she worries that the turbines would destroy the natural beauty of the area and harm wildlife.
“They’re ugly,” she said. “When I look out the window, I want to be able to see the sky.”
The group, which has their own Facebook page and website, are hoping to stir enough opposition to force Wheatland Township officials to consider putting the issue to a referendum, although it isn’t clear how that would stop residents from exercising their private property rights to have wind turbines installed on their land, if they so choose.
“All we’re asking for is to put it up to a vote,” Pollard said.
Pollard’s reasoning, in part, stems from his belief that the way Wheatland Township officials have gone about approving the project has been unethical.
“The board has been bought out,” he said, expressing his belief that several members of the board of trustees have signed agreements with Invenergy, the Chicago-based company building the wind farm. Some board members publicly admitted to a financial conflict of interest, but still voted to approve the project, he alleges.
That’s one of the reasons why activists are now turning to litigation in hopes of halting the project. The group has retained Klaus Law PLLC, which filed a petition for administrative appeal on their behalf.
The petition, which requests a public hearing on the “improprieties and illegalities” committed by Wheatland Township Planning Commission and Wheatland Township Board, was read aloud during Tuesday’s meeting, along with dozens of letters from township residents expressing opposition to the project.
During public comment time, several residents pressed Wheatland officials on the issue, but Dave Stone, the township’s supervisor, said they wouldn’t receive any answers because of the pending legal situation.
“All answers are going to come from our attorney,” he said.
Stone said after the meeting that the township has no choice but to contest the appeal.
“There are some accusations in there that we can’t let stand,” he said. “It’s going to mean more lawyers and more money.”
Stone went on to say that he believes the Wheatland Township Board acted appropriately to prepare for the commercial project, including amending the township’s prior-existing wind energy ordinance on July 12, 2018.
The amended ordinance regulates how far wind turbines must be removed from public roads, as well as implements restrictions on height, maximum sound pressure levels, and flicker – shadows cast by rotating wind turbine blades that can affect nearby buildings.
“This is not a project we went into lightly,” he said, describing additional steps township officials took to research and solicit feedback on the project, including touring an existing wind farm and advertising the numerous public hearings that have taken place over the past two years.
But for those still hoping to stop the project, it may already be too late. Invenergy representative Jim Griffin told board members during the meeting that the project has met necessary approval and is set to begin construction.
Pending any legal setbacks, the wind farm is expected to go online before Dec. 31, 2020. Just this week, the Michigan Public Service Commission granted Jackson-based Consumers Energy Co. approval to purchase the renewable energy project upon completion.
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