Only three township residents (not counting township officials) attended a wind energy ordinance public hearing on Tuesday evening hosted by the Richland Township Planning Commission.
All five planning commissioners were present – Chairman Roger Maxson and members John Copeland, Jack Keeler, Todd McCormick and Scott Marshall (who is also a township board trustee)— along with Richland Township Supervisor Jody Penrod, Treasurer Connie Marshall and Trustee Cal Callison (who is also the fire chief). Three township residents attended, as well as two Belvidere Township residents and the Daily News.
Maxson was recently appointed Planning Commission chairman after the township’s previous Planning Commission chairman Gerald “Jerry” Tiemann II died on Dec. 7, 2021, at the age of 82 after battling a COVID-related infection, according to his obituary. Tiemann also previously served as a Portland city councilman and as the Portland Township supervisor.
Richland Township’s draft wind ordinance (see info box below) states the following regarding turbine height limits: “The applicant shall demonstrate compliance with the Michigan Tall Structure Act (MCL 259.481 and following), Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, local airport zoning as part of the approval process, and not to exceed 500 feet tip height.”
Richland Township doesn’t have an airport, and based on comments made during and after the meeting, some planning commissioners appeared to be under the impression that their ordinance didn’t – and couldn’t – limit turbine height.
The draft ordinance lists turbine setbacks as follows: Two times a turbine’s tip height or 1,000 feet from an occupied building of a participating parcel; and three times a turbine’s tip height or 1,640 feet from the property line of a non-participating parcel.
“We can’t specify a size because they change,” said Copeland regarding turbines.
“The wind turbine height can only be 500 feet in certain areas, like a FAA area near an airport,” Scott Marshall said. “They (turbines) keep getting taller all the time. The 500 feet was FAA guidelines, that’s their guidelines, that wasn’t ours. We don’t have to worry about that around here because we don’t have an airport.”
“As the tip height goes up, the offset gets bigger,” Copeland added. “They can make them as tall as they want, but the offsets have to get bigger because the tip height goes up.”
The Daily News asked Maxson on Wednesday whether the draft ordinance limits turbine height, to which Maxson said no.
“We can’t tell the turbine people how to build them and we can’t regulate how tall they are unless they’re by airports,” he said.
“It’s a moot point,” he added (referring to the township’s lack of an airport).
The Daily News also asked Scott Marshall about the topic on Wednesday. He said he believes the draft ordinance limits turbines to 500 feet anywhere in the township, and he thinks some of his colleagues were confused about the topic.
“Our intent is that 500 feet is the maximum anywhere in the township,” he said. “Even some of the people on our own board were confused about that.”
However, Marshall believes the township would be open to possibly allowing turbines taller than 500 feet on a case by case basis.
“I can only speak for myself as one person on the board, but I would be open to them being taller as long as it stayed within the (setbacks),” he said. “We wouldn’t hold them right down to 500 feet. To me, the setbacks are tied to the height. We’re open to anything. We would look at it on a case by case basis as long as it was a reasonable distance of our setbacks.”
Richland Township’s draft ordinance is patterned on an ordinance from Seville Township in Gratiot County.
“The 1,640 (foot setbacks from non-participating properties) actually came from a manual that the wind companies use as a safety guideline that they use,” Scott Marshall said during Tuesday’s meeting. “That was given to us from the supervisor at Seville Township … and she said she got it from Gratiot County.
“All of these distances can be eliminated if the landowner signs a waiver,” he added. “Even if you’re non-participating. If you sign a waiver that says, ‘hey I don’t care if that’s 300 feet from my house, no problem.’ The bad thing is when you go to sell your house, you may have trouble selling it, but that’s up to you guys. If you sign a waiver, that’s totally on you.”
Township planners agreed to revisit the noise portion of their draft ordinance after hearing some feedback from Ken Purchase of Belvidere Township.
The draft states “wind energy facilities shall not exceed 55 db(A) at the habitable structure closest to the wind energy system. This sound pressure level may be exceeded during short-term events, such as utility outages and/or severe wind storms. If the ambient sound pressure level exceeds 55 db(A), the standard shall be ambient db(A) plus 5 db(A).”
Later on, the ordinance refers to lmax sound measurements, which Purchase says negates the previous language (see info box below). Purchase suggested the township eliminate the sentence regarding ambient sound pressure.
“You’re contradicting yourself,” Purchase said. “Other than that, you guys have done pretty good on your homework, I think.”
Scott Marshall said he would be happy to revisit the noise language to ensure it makes sense.
“Fifty-five decibels isn’t very loud. It’s actually quite quiet,” he added.
Callison, a township trustee and fire chief, shared how he has spent time around turbines in Gratiot County’s Ithaca.
“The decibel level only occurs for a short period of time,” he said. “If the wind blows too hard, they just shut them off. When the wind blows over there really hard, they just shut them off. And the wind really blows in Ithaca, trust me.”
Jake Borton, one of three township residents in attendance, asked whether the Planning Commission had included language regarding setbacks from local rivers. Borton works as the director of Isabella County’s Material Recovery Facility and is somewhat familiar with Apex Clean Energy’s turbine project in that county.
“The Pine River is a major waterway (in Richland Township),” Borton noted. “Did you put anything specific in as far as setbacks by that river area?”
Scott Marshall responded no, and that state regulations might cover this, but, “To be honest with you, Jake, I have to say I don’t know. That’s one question I can’t answer.”
Connie Marshall, the township treasurer, said she attended some of Apex’s community meetings to gather information about their proposed wind project for Montcalm County.
“They’re going to stay away from lakes and rivers and state land,” she said. “That affects quite a bit of us (in Richland Township). I think it’s going to be very rare if this community is approached, but you never know.”
“The guy I talked to from Apex down in Douglass Township … I went to one of their (community) meetings down there and of course you had to run the gauntlet to get into the building … he said they’re up to around $2 million to put up a tower now,” Scott Marshall added. “We need to have money in there to decommission those after their 15-year lifespan, which is about the average from what they say now.”
The draft ordinance calls for a surety security guarantee of at least $800,000 per unit and at least $400,000 in a cash savings account established per unit designated for the removal of each unit.
The Daily News is not aware of any properties in Richland Township that have signed leases with Apex, and Apex officials have not said they are considering that township for their proposed Montcalm County wind project.
“It’s extremely extensive. It’s very, very thorough,” said Maxson of the draft ordinance. “I think if other townships saw this, they’d want to pattern themselves after what they saw here.”
“We can’t just say no, we’re not going to have wind,” Scott Marshall added. “You just can’t say no to it. If you just say no, the wind companies will fight that in court and they will win that court battle, so you’ve got to have some guidelines in place. We tried to make it fair so that it covered everybody equally.
“We didn’t want to be so extreme that it was challengeable in court and undoable, but we didn’t want to be so easy that it really wouldn’t do much good in protecting small parcel landowners,” he added.
The Richland Township Planning Commission is next scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. on March 1.
A closer look
Some highlights from Richland Township’s proposed wind energy ordinance as currently drafted (not yet approved):
• HEIGHT: “The applicant shall demonstrate compliance with the Michigan Tall Structure Act (MCL 259.481 and following), Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, local airport zoning as part of the approval process, and not to exceed 500 feet tip height.” (Richland Township doesn’t have an airport.)
• SETBACKS: Each wind turbine shall be set back from an occupied building of participating parcels no less than two times the turbine’s tip height or 1,000 feet; each wind turbine shall be set back from the property line of a non-participating parcel no less than three times the turbine’s tip height or 1,640 feet.
• NOISE: Wind energy facilities shall not exceed 55 db(A) at the habitable structure closest to the wind energy system. This sound pressure level may be exceeded during short-term events, such as utility outages and/or severe wind storms. If the ambient sound pressure level exceeds 55 db(A), the standard shall be ambient db(A) plus 5 db(A). See accompanying story for discussion on this topic and the following noise regulations):
Non-participating member: Daytime 55 Lmax. Night period of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., 55 Lmax during night period, non-participating sound measured at the property line.
Participating: Day and nighttime 55 Lmax measured at occupied building.
Non-participating member: Daytime 65 Lmax, night period 55 Lmax.
Participating member: No restrictions.
• SHADOW FLICKER: Wind turbines shall be placed such that shadow flicker to any occupied building occurs no more than 30 hours per year.
• DECOMMISSIONING: Within 12 months of any tower or turbine not operating, the applicant/owner must submit a plan to the township board conquering the status of the wind power project and steps that shall be taken to either decommission the tower or turbine or to achieve renewed commercial operation. Any tower/turbine left used or inoperable for more than 24 months would be deemed to be disposed of by developer/applicant. A surety security guarantee of at least $800,000 per unit is required and there must be at least $400,000 in a cash savings account established per unit designated for the removal of each unit. Removal of any tower must allow restoration of the soil at the site to a depth of 4 feet.
[rest of article available at source]
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