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Apex hosts community meeting on proposed wind farm project

Apex Clean Energy officials hosted their first community meeting Tuesday evening and they used the occasion to explain why they are now addressing the entire county despite doing wind farm studies for the past three years or more.

“We’re really starting to ramp up our engagement,” Senior Development Manager Albert Jongewaard explained. “A lot of our early work is not necessarily something that we shout from the rooftops. We have been in the community for a couple of years but that doesn’t mean we’ve been talking to landowners for a couple of years.”

Tuesday’s meeting was held via a Zoom webinar platform, which didn’t allow participants to see how many other people were virtually participating, but it was likely a sizable audience as questions and answers came hard and fast via the Q&A function. (See accompanying infobox.)

Apex is proposing a 75-turbine “Montcalm Wind” project, currently focused on 10 townships in Montcalm County. Apex officials say the project will bring an investment of more than $600 million into the county. As of December 2020, Apex had signed more than 100 leases with individuals or families involving 15,000 to 20,000 acres of land in the county (Apex officials hope to lease up to 50,000 acres of land, although they say turbines and access roads would cover less than 1% of the land lease for the project).

Montcalm County is touted as an ideal location for a wind farm according to Apex based on the county’s expansive agricultural land, wind resources and already-existing high-voltage transmission lines.

“Wind energy is at the end of the day often farmland preservation,” Jongewaard said.

While local wind ordinances are still in the process of being hammered out in multiple townships, repealed (as in Douglass Township) or going to a voter referendum (as in Maple Valley Township), Apex officials say they hope to be operational by 2024. Half a dozen meteorological evaluation towers (MET towers) have been placed throughout the county for wind data studies, which take up to two years (Apex officials have repeatedly noted that MET tower placement does not equal future turbine placement).

TURBINE NOISE

Mike Hankard of Hankard Environmental in Verona, Wisconsin, was asked by Apex to give his perspective on wind turbine noise.

Hankard said wind can produce noise levels ranging from 35 to 70 decibels as it blows through vegetation and against structures. He said birds, insects and frogs produce noise levels ranging from 30 to 50 decibels, while traffic produces noise levels ranging from 30 to 80 decibels.

Hankard ranked turbine noise levels on a range from 30 to 50 decibels.

“Turbine noise can be audible and can be audible inside a home,” he admitted. “But they don’t put out full noise 24/7 by any stretch of the imagination. They are an intermittent noise. Full noise is about 25 percent of the time and some of this turbine noise is masked by noise from the wind blowing through vegetation.

Hankard also addressed infrasound – sound ranging from zero to 20 Hertz (Hz). He said turbines produce infrasound but at levels five orders of magnitude (50 decibels) below human hearing thresholds. He noted that infrasound is also produced by many other sources, both natural (such as thunder and wind blowing through vegetation and against houses) and man-made (such as airplanes, vehicles, tractors, boats, factories and agricultural operations).

“No peer-reviewed or government study has linked wind turbine infrasound to health impacts,” said Hankard, adding that there are many articles of speculation and fear-based stories online. “Turbines are not a significant source of infrasound. Modern turbines are becoming quieter with slower speed and better blade design, and fewer are required for any given project.”

ECONOMIC BENEFITS

Don Schurr, the former president of Greater Gratiot Development, was asked by Apex to share his thoughts on the economic benefits turbines could bring to Montcalm County.

Schurr said Montcalm Wind would pay a conservative estimate of from $30 to $40 million in direct tax payments over the project’s lifetime – including benefits to local townships and millages, schools, the county and all county-wide millages, such as Montcalm Community College, the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District, the Commission on Aging, the Sheriff’s Office, the Veterans Affairs Department, Michigan State University Extension and 4-H, county ambulances and libraries, special education and vocational tech.

Schurr said turbines would provide a conservative estimate of $100 million of land and lease income to local farm families and landowners over the project’s lifetime. He also noted the project will create about 300 construction jobs and up to 15 full-time permanent technician jobs. He said the project would help fund multiple infrastructure improvements in the county at no cost to local government or individuals, such as roads, bridges, drains and high voltage grid upgrades.

“An estimated $600 million initial value project will generate $300,000 per 1 mill levy in year one,” he said while noting that taxes are paid based upon location of assets and are subject to depreciation over time as personal property.

A FARMER’S PERSPECTIVE

George Green is the former chairman of the Isabella County Board of Commissioners (he retired last year after serving on the board since 1997). He is also a farmer, property owner and lease signer with Apex’s wind farm in Isabella County.

Green is financially benefitting from the Apex wind farm in Isabella County, but he was also among county commissioners who voted in 2017 to make changes to the county’s already-existing wind ordinance, resulting in tightened regulations on turbine setbacks and decibel levels for turbines, according to the Morning Sun newspaper.

“I go out the door in the morning and I don’t actually truthfully know they’re there,” said Green of the 583-feet-tall turbines on his property. “They’re like an oak tree in front – they’re there, but you don’t know they’re there. I’ve only heard noise from these windmills occasionally when the wind is blowing extremely hard. I haven’t found one dead creature underneath those windmills. There’s no dead birds, nothing like that. I don’t understand where that philosophy comes from.

“They’re great green energy,” he said. “They’re looking into the future of what we need and I think they’re one of the greatest things going. As far as the revenue side of this and how much it means to the farm families, the townships, schools … it’s unbelievable as to how it will help the community alone.”

Apex Clean Energy Q&A

A look at some of the questions asked by audience members and answered by Apex Clean Energy officials during Tuesday’s community meeting (additional questions may be emailed to Apex via Albert Jongewaard at albert.jongewaard@apexcleanenergy.com):

Question from Nick Wcisel: “When will landowners be able to see a layout of the project?”

Answer from Jongewaard: “Landowners will be approached with potential turbine locations first because the lease requires that we (the developers) seek approvals and consultation from each landowner before we move forward with additional plans. We do not have a proposed timeline for that at this point.”

Q from Wcisel: “Have you decided on a location for the collection substation?”

A from Jongewaard: “We have not.”

Q from Wcisel: “Who will own the substation?”

A from Jongewaard: “The substation will be owned either by the project owner, or possibly ITC at the point of interconnection where the power plugs into the grid.”

Q from Jason Geers: “Is or will there be an available map of the land lots on where these are being installed?”

A from Jongewaard: “After we get to the point of having an idea of where they go, and before we submit an application to the townships, yes. Right now we do not have a layout.”

Q from David Trumble: “If you were standing 100 feet from a turbine, would you hear it?”

A from Michael Hankard: “Yes. I have done this and one can carry on a conversation with someone right under a turbine without a problem.”

Q from Steve Nichols: “Does Apex own the property or lease it?”

A from Jongewaard: “We do NOT own the property. We will lease it. The landowner continues to own the property, can exercise their own personal property rights, and we just pay rent throughout the life of the project.”

Q from “Harry Armpits”: “How much tax abatement will Apex be asking for? I see most big developers wanting up to 50% for 12 years.”

A from Jongewaard: “We are not asking for any tax abatements. That may sound funny, but it’s true. This project will pay taxes and not ask for abatements.”

Q from Anthony Bennett: “Where does the money come from to pay for the land leases?”

A from Jongewaard: “All the money that goes into paying for land leases, and all other aspects of development and construction is private money. Uncle Sam, the state of Michigan and local townships do not pay subsidies for this work to take place. All the money is private, and comes from Apex (or Apex borrows, as quite often is necessary to purchase turbines and pay for construction).”

Q from Judy Graham: “Is any fuel used in running these turbines?”

A from Jongewaard: “Short answer is no. The fuel is the wind. There is not diesel or gas backup to power the turbines when the wind does not blow. They’re powered by the wind.”

Q from David Johnson: “Is there a setback for pivots?”

A from Jongewaard: “There is not a specific or specially designated setback from a pivot, but we have added language to our lease so that anyone who participates is guaranteed that we cannot and will not disrupt the operation of your pivot without your permission to do so.”

Q from Jason Geers: “Will the power output of the turbines be contained in each county? Or will extra power be sent out to different counties and/or states?”

A from Jongewaard: “Power will be plugged into the grid here in Montcalm County and will be used across portions of Montcalm County, but will also flow to neighboring counties. This project will generate more power than can be used here locally.”

Q from A.K.: “Where can we access all of the studies that you have had commissioned for Montcalm County? Also, where is the information about the bird studies/bald eagle nests?”

A from Jongewaard: We are still in the process of conducting those studies, and will hold a public presentation later in this calendar year. We don’t have a date set, but will keep people informed as we get the point of being ready to share this info. Ultimately, the final study data will need to be shared with the state and federal agencies, but some of the data particularly around eagle’s nests, etc. will be very public. There will also be other pieces that are public in the site plan review process when we get ready to submit an application to any of the townships.”

Q from Debra Crocker: “Will Apex hold additional meetings to discuss project progress?”

A from Brian O’Shea: “Yes this is the first of many meetings and community conversations we plan on holding.”

Q from Crocker: “How will we be notified of future meetings?”

A from O’Shea: “Depending on the type of meeting, folks should expect notices in newspapers, online or through the mail, as well as in-person opportunities in the future.”

Visit montcalmwind.com or facebook.com/MontcalmWind for more information about Apex’s proposed Montcalm Wind project.