CATO TOWNSHIP – The Cato Township Planning Commission hosted its first-ever Zoom meeting Wednesday evening, and despite the focus being the contentious topic of wind turbines, Chairman Phil Morrow and his colleagues helped set a tone of civility which carried throughout the meeting.
“We want to communicate with each other tonight with dignity and respect,” Morrow told the nearly 70 people participating via Zoom. “This is not a Q and A tonight, this is public comment, it means you’re giving us your feedback, which is very appreciated.”
At the request of audience members, the Planning Commission unanimously voted to review its wind zoning ordinance, which has not been updated since 2015. The Planning Commission includes Morrow, Secretary Kim Carr, David Behrenwald, Cato Township Board Trustee Jourdan Lindsey and Belvidere Township Board Trustee Carolyn Kelsey, who is also a member of the Maple Valley Township Planning Commission. Carolyn’s husband, David Kelsey, was also present as the zoning administrator for Cato Township (he is also the ZA for Belvidere, Douglass, Home, Maple Valley and Winfield townships).
Wednesday’s two-hour meeting consisted almost solely of public comment regarding concerns over wind turbines (at least half of the people who spoke don’t live in Cato Township). David Kelsey was the only audience member who spoke in support of wind turbines, although he agreed the township’s ordinance should be updated. He said if wind energy isn’t used, fracking and fossil fuel use will have to be increased.
“As a supplemental energy source, it’s a lot safer energy source than using fossil fuel,” he said. “At least this stuff you can see it, you can hear it. The other stuff, you can’t see it or hear it but it’s killing you. The wind turbines could be a nuisance to some people or an eyesore to some people, but I’d rather have that than some of the other stuff they have right now.”
Brandi Clark-Hubbard of Cato Township was the first of many audience members who asked the Planning Commission to review its zoning ordinance, and also to place a moratorium on any wind projects (the Planning Commission did not take any action on the latter request).
“I have concerns about these industrial wind turbines coming to our area,” Clark-Hubbard said. “Naturally when you’re talking about putting up 600-foot structures in small areas, that’s going to concern some people. That’s why we live up here instead of in Grand Rapids – we don’t want to live underneath towering structures. I feel very strongly that the township needs to work together with the community to make sure the ordinance gets updated. If we don’t take this initiative, we’re going to be stuck with an outdated ordinance that puts us all at risk.”
Jessica Kwekel of Cato Township said she believed the township’s existing ordinance is “way too lenient and friendly to big wind companies.”
“Personally this is hitting home to me because when I step outside, I look to the north, to the south, to the east, to the west and I see the beautiful nature God has created,” she said. “This is making me sick to my stomach.”
Quanah Striker of Cato Township questioned whether the local Amish community is being kept in the loop about Cato Township’s existing ordinance and the 75-turbine wind farm proposed by Apex Clean Energy for an estimated 10 townships in Montcalm County.
“They are being approached aggressively by Apex,” Striker said. “They are being promised money that to these people is more than their yearly income. They don’t have a voice, they don’t have Zoom. They don’t make a lot of money. They are wonderful people and they are part of our community.”
As a result of audience comments, Morrow recommended a motion to review the township’s zoning ordinance. Lindsey made the motion, which passed unanimously. A plan for review will be discussed at a future meeting.
“We will take these comments into consideration as we move forward and we will share them with the (township) board,” Morrow said. “We will take a serious look at these comments and questions.”
“It needs to be reviewed,” Lindsey agreed of the zoning ordinance.
The Cato Township Board is next scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. on March 1.
The Cato Township Planning Commission is next scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. on April 14.
WIND TURBINES IN TEXAS
Jongewaard was among those in attendance Wednesday. He was also present the last time the Cato Township Planning Commission met in October 2020.
On Wednesday, Jongewaard reported that Apex is now working out of office space in Lakeview at 228 N. Lincoln Ave. He also spoke about the ongoing power outage situation in Texas in the hopes of clearing up some misinformation about what role wind turbines played.
According to the Associated Press, failures in natural gas, coal and nuclear energy systems were responsible for nearly twice as many power outages as frozen wind turbines and solar panels, per the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates that state’s power grid. ERCOT officials say that of the 45,000 total megawatts of power that were offline statewide, about 30,000 consisted of thermal sources – gas, coal and nuclear plants – while 16,000 came from renewable sources. While Texas has ramped up wind energy in recent years the state relies on wind power for only about 25% of its total electricity, according to ERCOT.
A viral photo of a helicopter de-icing a wind turbine has been making the rounds on social media, but that photo was taken in Sweden in 2015 and the helicopter was spraying hot water onto the turbine – not chemicals. The photo has nothing to do with the current situation in Texas, according to the Associated Press.
“We’ve seen the news, I’ve been following the news in Texas just like everyone else,” said Jongewaard during Wednesday’s meeting. “Wind turbines are not the sole reason for power outages in Texas. The primary reason for the power outages is that the power plants that are built down there … are not weatherized, they are not built to operate in sub-zero temperatures.”
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