Apex Clean Energy is committing to pursuing new technology that could greatly reduce blinking red lights on any wind turbines built in Montcalm County.
Apex’s Senior Development Manager Albert Jongewaard announced during Tuesday evening’s virtual community meeting that Apex will be requesting permission from the Federal Aviation Administrator (FAA) to be allowed to use aircraft detection lighting system (ADLS) software on any turbines built in Montcalm County. The new technology allows blinking red lights to be turned off on turbines unless an airplane enters the airspace.
Local township officials have discussed the possibility of including ADLS language in their pending wind ordinances, including Cato Township Planning Commissioner Brandi Clark-Hubbard during that public body’s May 12 meeting.
“We believe that this process (Apex’s proposed Montcalm County wind energy farm) would be a pretty strong candidate to get approval for radar detection lighting system, so we are committing to making that part of our process,” Jongewaard said on Tuesday. “It’s our intention to deploy this in the Montcalm Wind project.”
Apex is currently focusing its plans for 75 wind turbines on nine townships throughout Montcalm County – an average of eight turbines per township in Belvidere, Cato, Douglass, Maple Valley, Montcalm, Pierson, Pine, Sidney and Winfield townships, although Jongewaard noted Apex “is in the constant process of refining the area.”
The estimated number of 75 turbines is derived from the project’s estimated 375MW power featuring 5MW turbines (375 divided by 5 equals 75).
“We have a couple more years ahead of us,” Jongewaard said. “We do anticipate being in construction by 2024.”
Apex’s Project Development Director Kent Dougherty discussed the process Apex uses to figure out where to build, starting by removing state land from the equation (as wind developers aren’t allowed by Michigan to build on state land). Apex then adds setbacks for residences, roads and non-participating parcels, as well as environmental setbacks while also avoiding disruption to farm pivot systems.
Dougherty said industry standards call for a setback of 1.1 times a turbine tip height from residences, occupied buildings, public roads, railroads, transmission lines and oil and gas infrastructures, according to the “Setback Considerations for Wind Turbine Siting” study by GE Renewable Energy; and 1.5 times the turbine tip height plus the rotor diameter in cold climates where icing may occur, according to the “Wind Energy Production in Cold Climate” study.
Dougherty said in Michigan, wind development has generally occurred in areas with setbacks of between 2 to 2.5 times the turbine height, or 1,000 to 1,250 foot setbacks, from a dwelling or property line, according to the “Sample Zoning for Wind Energy Systems” study by Michigan State University. Dougherty called setbacks of 1,000 feet to 1,500 feet “the sweet spot.”
“Setbacks are often misused by project opponents as a means to exclude wind energy or make a project infeasible,” he said. “A larger setback may have the effect of severely limiting or even unlawfully excluding wind energy from a jurisdiction.”
Apex’s Resource Assessment Manager Meagan Denman discussed shadow flicker, which is caused by sunlight passing through the rotor sweep area of a turbine.
Denman said Apex uses Grand Rapids climate data for the Montcalm Wind project, which shows that Montcalm County receives an average of 2,207.4 hours of sunshine per year. Denman said 2,207.4 divided by 30 (which she said is the industry standard for hours of shadow flicker per year) equals 1.4% as the average maximum potential time when the sun and turbines could result in shadow flicker in Montcalm County.
“There is no scientific evidence to suggest that shadow flicker negatively effects health,” Denman said.
After an hourlong presentation, Apex officials answered questions from some of the estimated 80 people virtually participating.
“Has Apex done a soil survey?” audience member Pat Evans asked. “The water table is high in this area.”
“No, we haven’t done one yet but that will be part of our geotechnical studies,” Dougherty answered. “We’ll probably do one in the next six months. We’ll do a series of deep bores across leased project land and a report will be generated from that.”
“Your plan is to place 75 turbines approximately 625 feet tall,” Evans asked. “Would installing two 325-foot turbines replace one of the 625-foot tall turbines? One of the issues we have is how tall they are and how far we can see them. Installing shorter turbines might help one of our concerns.”
“You simply can’t purchase 325-foot-tall turbines commercially,” Dougherty responded. “You can’t economically design and build a project with turbines of that height.”
“There just isn’t a commercial turbine available that is less than 500 feet, so that’s not an option,” Denman added.
Wind ordinances in Douglass and Sidney townships are currently being considered that would limit turbine height to 300 or 330 feet.
“Do any of you Apex reps live next to a wind turbine?” asked Jessica Kwekel of Cato Township.
Yes,” Public Engagement Manager Brian O’Shea responded.
“I wish I did,” Dougherty added.
Another audience member asked how to contact Apex regarding signing up property to host a turbine. Apex can be contacted regarding the Montcalm Wind project at www.montcalmwind.com online (Apex previously hosted a virtual community meeting in February and that meeting’s question and answer log can be read on the Montcalm Wind website under the “events” tab).
Apex officials are planning to host several in-person “listening sessions” with tentative dates being scheduled for early June in Maple Valley and Pierson townships, mid-June in Cato and Pine townships, late June in Winfield Township, early July in Belvidere and Douglass township and mid-July in Montcalm and Sidney townships.
“We know there are some folks out there that don’t like the idea of the wind project being anywhere in Montcalm County … but there’s a lot of people who do feel differently about that and are interested and excited to see a project happen and they have rights also,” Jongewaard said. “It’s all about striking a balance.
“If wind projects were truly as detrimental or problematic to a community as some folks assume or say, you wouldn’t see six or seven of them being built throughout the county,” he added, referring to Gratiot County.
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