PINE TOWNSHIP – Despite repeated requests from residents, the Pine Township Board on Monday declined to take any action on placing a temporary moratorium on wind permits, on saying whether they would be updating the township’s wind ordinance or on allowing a spokesperson with turbine concerns to be scheduled to speak at a future meeting.
Instead, Supervisor Bill Drews promoted a township-sponsored event set for 7 p.m. on March 30 featuring Sarah Mills, who earned her doctorate in urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan, where her dissertation looked at the impact that wind energy projects have on farming communities.
“She is an unbiased, fact-driven, research-driven specialist in being able to put all the facts out there, whether you support or whether you don’t support the idea of wind energy – the facts will be the true facts,” Drews said.
Lindsey Simon of Pine Township noted that residents have repeatedly asked that someone such as Kevon Martis of Leenawee County or Norm Stephens of Tuscola County be allowed to present concerns and recommendations about the township’s wind ordinance.
Martis is a senior policy fellow at Virginia-based Energy & Environmental Legal Institute and is founder and executive director of the Interstate Informed Citizen Coalition. Stephens is a resident of Almer Township, which NextEra Energy Researches sued in federal court over that township’s wind ordinance (the township won).
“The subject of who is biased and who isn’t, certainly we have had the opportunity to review the people you are talking about,” Drews responded to Simon. “If you’re talking about bias, they (Martis and Stephens) are certainly biased.”
Simon said Mills is biased as well.
“We have done our homework,” Drews said. “You can say that she’s biased, but she presents the facts.”
Nancy Spanski of Pine Township said she has already heard Mills’ presentation.
“I would not consider her facts complete in terms of understanding what the impacts of industrial wind are on local townships and their zoning ordinances,” Spanski said. “In fact, her data does not collect historical data to look at the changes in township budgets – which has been brought up by township supervisors as one of the reasons they think wind has a place here – in terms of what the impact on the revenues to townships is. The rationale for her position is actually to integrate wind into communities, not necessarily to provide unbiased information.”
David Reeve of Pine Township asked if the township planned to update its wind ordinance to address modern turbines. Drews responded that Reeve was “a little behind” as the township already has a wind ordinance (which hasn’t been updated since 2016).
This exchange prompted multiple protests and responses from audience members throughout the rest of public comment.
“Respectfully, Mr. Drews, the gentleman earlier, you told him he was coming to the game a little late, that we have an ordinance from about 10 years ago,” David Bean of Pine Township said. “OK, if we’re going to do that, then maybe we ought to look at the ordinance compared to what windmills were 10 years ago. The existing ordinance, I do feel needs to be revisited and rewritten with a little stronger approach to what we’re looking at. Industrial windmills in our area is just going to be devastation. You’re talking about 75 windmills, probably only 30 to 40 people in this county, in Montcalm County, are going to receive ample rewards over this. As far as the township looking for a golden goose, this is just appalling that we would be thinking about jeopardizing what we have here.”
“I feel that the ordinance is not strong enough to protect residents,” Jamie Gorby of Pine Township agreed. “I really feel that we can limit the height of these turbines and there is not a limit. I think 600-plus feet is just completely unacceptable. There is no plan for having escrow for decommissioning these. It’s in the special use permit, but it’s not specified in the ordinance. I would ask that you would consider working with other townships and work together because I think other townships are really listening to their residents and changing their ordinances. We need to protect our residents and I don’t feel that that is happening at this point.”
Mike Theis of Pine Township pressed Drews on the matter, resulting in an exchange between the two men.
“Are you guys going to be sitting down with these other townships (such as Sidney Township) and working with them to set up some guidelines so we can all be communities and neighbors together? Is that something you’re going to be willing to do, Mr. Drews?” Theis asked.
“At the time that the master plan was put into place, this information came down through the county,” Drews responded. “Our ordinance was pretty much similar to what was suggested be put into place at that time. Our ordinances, all of them on the master plan, were revisited in 2016. We have been doing our due diligence. Yeah, the (turbine) technology has changed, much of what the changes that have come about is that they have become more efficient, and thank God for that. If we’re all looking down the road at green energy, somewhere this has to happen.”
Theis asked again if the township plans to update its wind ordinance.
“There is a legal qualification that you have to meet,” Drews said. “If you have such a restrictive ordinance, whether it’s wind energy or any other ordinance that’s there, it can be declared illegal. That’s fact.”
“What I’m hearing from you, Mr. Drews, is you’re not going to revisit this, is what I’m hearing,” Theis said.
“The Planning Commission will meet in April,” Drews said. “We are offering the presentation (from Mills) on the 30th to try to help clear up what I would call falsehoods that are out there. The very best information that can be provided will be provided to the township people.”
“You have 70-plus people on this Zoom call,” Theis pointed out. “Whatever she (Mills) says, we don’t want that in our community.”
Curt Simon of Pine Township questioned why Drews wouldn’t respond to repeated requests from residents that the township place a temporary moratorium on wind permits.
“We work with the Planning Commission,” Drews said. “It has to fall into their hands as well.”
“What do residents of Pine Township have to do to make this come to a vote?” a frustrated Simon asked. “Is there any way we as residents can make something happen?”
“The Planning Commission will be meeting in April,” Drews repeated. “Would you listen please?”
“Yeah, I would – would you answer some questions please?” Simon returned.
Drews repeated that Mills will give a presentation on March 30 and the Planning Commission will meet in April.
“At that time, if they want to address revisiting the ordinance, that’s their call,” Drews said.
Simon pointed out that besides Mills, the township has also given Apex Clean Energy officials multiple opportunities to speak at meetings.
“Should the citizens have a chance to bring in a person to talk on our behalf?” Simon asked. “Wouldn’t that be justifiable being that we had to listen to the other side of it?”
“If you want to send me an email, I will respond to that in an email,” Drews said.
Brian O’Shea, public engagement manager for Apex, was also present via Zoom. He said the Feb. 23 Zoom presentation from Apex is posted online (www.montcalmwind.com) and that answers to all the questions that were submitted will be posted online soon. O’Shea also responded to Bean’s comment about “30 or 40 people” benefitting from Apex’s planned wind farm.
“For our Isabella County project, we probably had about 500 families that participated in the project,” O’Shea said. “A the end of the day, the project in Montcalm County would benefit far more than 40 people.”
After an hour of public comment, Drews attempted to continue with the rest of the meeting, but Stephens noted he had not yet been given an opportunity to speak despite having his hand raised.
“I’m sorry, you are not even close to (living in) Montcalm County, let’s go on,” Clerk Marla Sprague retorted.
“Excuse me, I’m still allowed to participate,” Stephens noted.
Township officials agreed to let Stephens speak. Stephens used his time to recommend township officials make sure to specify turbine decommissioning costs in their wind ordinance. He said a NextEra representative told Almer Township it would only cost about $50,000 to decommission a turbine, but township residents obtained their own bids on this, which ranged from $250,000 to $500,000. Stephens said at yet another meeting, a NextEra representative said decommissioning would now cost approximately $675,000. Stephens noted that all these numbers changed within less than one year.
“Take everything they say with a grain of salt,” said Stephens of wind energy officials.
Also during Monday’s meeting, Trustee Randy Robson gave an update on Pine Township’s newly created website (pinetownship.net).
Treasurer Rachel Pitcher was absent from Monday’s meeting due to a “family emergency,” according to Drews. No treasurer’s report was presented due to some other issues, according to Sprague.
“I had a little bit of trouble reconciling the bank statements for February and I’m working with Rachel to resolve that,” Sprague said.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding