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Sidney Twp. Planning Commission to hold special meetings to discuss, refine proposed wind and solar ordinances

SIDNEY TOWNSHIP – If all goes as planned, this township will have new wind and solar ordinances pertaining to commercial energy projects adopted into its zoning laws come summer.

During Monday’s meeting of the Sidney Township Board, Trustee Ray Leyrer, who is also a member of the Planning Commission, said the commission is prepared to have additional discussion, hold a public hearing and potentially vote on a recommendation of approval to the township board regarding the ordinances.

Leyrer said the Planning Commission would like to hold two special meetings this spring before it meets for its next regularly scheduled meeting on June 2.

“The first one (special meeting) would be to finalize the solar and wind ordinances,” he said. “The second one would be to have the public hearing on both of them.”

Leyrer said he would like those meetings to occur in April and May, preferably both at noon on Saturdays, leading up to the June 2 quarterly meeting in which the Planning Commission would then hold a vote. He would also like the meetings to be held outdoors at Sidney Township Park to accommodate potentially larger crowds that the township hall cannot currently accommodate due to state-mandated coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

Leyrer said in the event of inclement weather, the meetings would occur on the following Sundays, also at noon.

Treasurer Corinda Stover said she was OK with the board scheduling both public hearings being held “as a package” during one meeting of the commission, thus reducing advertising costs for public hearing postings.

“As long as we are rolling to get this done,” she said. “I don’t want it dragging.”

The township board voted unanimously to allow the Planning Commission to schedule the two additional special meetings.

However, Leyrer said additional review was needed of the proposed solar ordinance.

Leyrer said the proposed wind ordinance – which has been posted for the public to review on Sidney Township’s website – is currently being reviewed by attorneys for additional adjustments and input per a vote made by the board in February. However, no such decision was made regarding the proposed solar ordinance, which left Leyrer motioning for a vote that the board to ask that attorneys also review that ordinance. This was approved via an unanimous vote.

The focus on creating a wind ordinance for the township came about last fall after Apex Clean Energy announced plans to develop a 75-turbine wind farm – using turbines about 600 feet high – using up to 50,000 leased acres of land in about 10 townships in Montcalm County.

For such a project to come to fruition, Sidney Township – being a zoned township – must have zoning laws in place regarding the construction of turbines. However, what such an ordinance could look like and how restrictive it may or may not be has been at the center of heated discussion throughout much of Montcalm County as multiple townships and their respective planning commissions have been working to amend existing or draft new wind ordinances.

In March, the Sidney Township Planning Commission announced it had finished the draft version of the proposed wind ordinance, which was applauded by several members of the community Monday. (See accompanying info box for highlights of the proposed ordinance).

Public comment

With the Sidney Township Board once again meeting in person, 25 people met at the township hall while another nearly 30 participated via Zoom.

During public comment, several residents came forward with opinions focused against wind turbines, with township resident Erik Benko going as far as to present his own report regarding alleged impacts of wind turbines in the area.

“We’ve been hearing for I don’t know how long about all this money that this project is going to be brought into this county and the township, but to my knowledge there’s never been any written projections provided by this industrial developer (regarding) exactly where this money comes from and how much money we’re talking about,” he said.

Benko presented his report titled “Estimated Net Annual Community Financial Impact for the Proposed ‘Montcalm Wind’ Project,” which he compiled utilizing a variety of online sources and studies, though not entirely specific to Montcalm County or Michigan, ranging across topics including potential agriculture losses due to bats, residential property devaluation and tourism reduction.

Benko estimated that the Montcalm Wind project could bring in an estimated $2 million annually to the county through property tax revenues and lease agreements with property owners.

Apex has not provided a hard estimate to date on what the project could bring to the county financially.

On its website, Apex states: “Total direct financial impact to the region will be in the millions of dollars over the life of the project, with additional indirect economic benefits to the local economy. In the long term, the project promises to bring sustained tax revenue to the county for the local government and schools, as well as more than 30 years of local purchasing, employment, and investment.”

However, Benko claimed that the county could lose $36.6 million annually in total revenues if the Montcalm Wind project comes to fruition.

“There are 100 credible sources in here that will show this will have detrimental impacts to agriculture, property sale value – tourism is a huge one,” he said. “It’s great that it’s going to bring in $2 million in this county, and this township might get a little sprinkling of that for a few years, but that’s until it goes to the tax tribunals and they slash it down and demonetize it (and) we’re going to to be living with these things for years.”

Albert Jongewaard, senior development manager for Apex, disputed Benko’s estimates.

“There are a lot of studies and things in it (Benko’s report), but if what this says is true, then Montcalm County would somehow be the first county in the history of wind energy, that I’m aware of, that’s actually losing money from these projects,” Jongewaard said. “I’m going through and putting together some responses. There is a lot of tax information that is available. I just want to say there will be some followup response to this, but a lot of this takes time.

“I know there’s questions about taxes and various things,” he added. “I’m aware of that and I look forward to having a much more public conversation about the tax benefits and everything else that can come from this project that’s been called into question.”

Highlights of proposed Sidney Township wind ordinance

To view the full ordinance as proposed, visit www.sidneymi.org/current-documents.html online.

• Maximum turbine height, with the blade fully extended, set at 300 feet.

• Setback requirements from any property line of a non-participating landowner or any road right-of-way at a minimum of 3,000 feet or five times the tip height of each turbine. Additionally, each turbine must be located at least 2.5 miles from the nearest lake or body of water.

• Project must include a decommissioning plan, which would describe the actions to be taken following the abandonment or discontinuation of a commercial wind turbine, including evidence of proposed commitments with property owners to ensure proper final reclamation, repairs to roads and other steps necessary to fully remove commercial wind turbine and restore the property.

• An environmental assessment or impact study to evaluate the impact of wind turbines on rare or endangered species, eagles, birds, wildlife and waterways.

• A sound modeling report, background sound study, and maximum noise level requirement that wind turbines do not exceed 40dB(A) Leq 1 or 50dB(C) Leq 1 second at any time on a non-participating property (unless a waiver is signed).

• An automatic de-icing system with technology that automatically de-ices the turbine blades. The system must detect ice and heat the blades, such as through the use of built-in carbon heating mats or through the circulation of hot air.

• Requirement of an economic impact study, fire and emergency plan, lighting plan and shadow flicker analysis, with wind turbines required not to produce any shadow flicker on non-participating properties unless the record owners of all non-participating properties have signed a release.

• No communication interference, requiring that commercial wind turbines must not interfere with any radio, television or other communication systems.