In a rural section of Kent County about 20 minutes northeast of Grand Rapids, some township officials have placed a point of focus on the happenings of their neighbors to the east in Montcalm County.
During Tuesday evening’s meeting of the Oakfield Township Planning Commission, Township Supervisor Greg Dean brought forth a topic that has consumed much of the news cycle of Montcalm County over the past year – wind and solar energy ordinances.
Dean said while no wind energy companies have reached out to the township at this time, one solar energy company, Cenergy Power, a commercial solar developer based in California, has expressed an interest to develop solar farms within the township, looking at approximately 30 acres in size per farm.
However, as the township’s ordinances currently stand, there’s nothing on the books regarding the development of wind or solar projects.
To that end, Dean wants the township to take a proactive approach in preparing for any wind or solar proposals – specifically to avoid some of what he’s witnessed across the county line.
“The point being is I am not going to get into a war like they are having east of Greenville in Sidney Township and all through there,” Dean said. “It’s better to be proactive and get an ordinance now.”
“Absolutely,” Planning Commission Chairman James Tilton agreed. “It looks like they (Cenergy Power) are trying to get some clarification and we should be setting up some clarification of our essential services.”
The Planning Commission voted unanimously (with commissioners Anthony Marko, Dannie Marko and William Pelak absent) to recommend to the Township Board that an ordinance be developed to “include solar farms and windmills (turbines) into the zoning requirements for the township.”
“When these issues come up, when you see what’s happening in other areas, we look to our area and see how we are going to address it,” Tilton said. “We’re either satisfied with the current zoning requirements or we modify them.”
Dean said that while no wind energy company has reached out to the township, given existing industrial turbines in Gratiot County (345 turbines) and Isabella County (136 turbines), as well as the project proposed by Apex Clean Energy for Montcalm County – an estimated 75 turbines each nearly 700 feet in height throughout the county – he felt it would be best to have an ordinance on the books.
“They are close right now – the other side of Carson City is all windmills,” he said.
Commissioners agreed that drafting an ordinance would be a good idea for the township.
“Drive over to Ithaca where my son is and that’s all you can see for miles – windmills,” Tilton said. “I get it, I understand it. People want power without burning coal or waste or natural gas, but I guess I’m just from a different generation, that’s all.”
Dean added that an initiative to create wind and solar ordinances is not being done in direct anticipation of accommodating such industries.
“It’s not to say we’re going to get a solar farm or windmills here,” he said. “It’s just better to be prepared if the issue ever comes before us.”
“It’s a good thing to do for the future of the township,” Commissioner David Pusczak added.
Currently, Oakfield Township’s zoning ordinance has a specific category within it for “Essential Services,” however, absent from the list of services is either wind or solar energy.
Currently, that section of the ordinance reads: “The erection, construction, alteration or maintenance by public utilities or governmental units of overhead or underground gas, electrical, communication, steam, water, sanitary sewer or storm sewer, distribution, transmission or collection systems and other similar equipment and structures in connection therewith, and which are reasonably necessary for the furnishing of adequate service, are permitted in any zoning district. The erection and use of buildings for such purposes shall take place only if approved by the Planning Commission as a special use.”
Tilton said with any potential solar and wind development likely to be proposed from the private sector and not a government utility such as Consumers Energy or DTE, the ordinance will need some adjustment regarding wind and solar energy.
“Is it (wind and solar) an essential service, is it not? Where does it fall as far as zoning requirements?” he asked. “So we’re trying to clean that up to include this (in our ordinance). We can get our law firm to help us develop that.”
Dean added that if the township’s zoning ordinance is amended to allow wind and solar projects, each such project would be required to be approved by the Planning Commission.
“If we pass an ordinance, it will be a special use (special land use request) for windmills and solar farms,” he said.
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