‘A lot of dollars’
[Erik Benko, founder of Montcalm County Citizens United] told the Daily News that to say he and other members of Citizens United are disappointed in the methodology and content of the Upjohn report, “would be an understatement.” He said he considers the Upjohn report to be “a direct response” to his own report, which he says was compiled with layperson residents and township officials in mind. “We really would have expected Apex and Upjohn to follow suit in the creation of a transparent and intuitive document executed with humble intellectual honesty, but apparently that is asking too much,” Benko said.
Credit: Upjohn Institute study estimates Apex wind project would be $776 million investment into Montcalm County | By Elisabeth Waldon | Daily News | April 29, 2022 | www.thedailynews.cc ~~
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GREENVILLE – A study done by the Kalamazoo-based W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research estimates a wind turbine project proposed for multiple local townships would be a $776 million investment over its 30-year lifetime, making the project Montcalm County’s single largest taxpayer.
Upjohn’s economic impact analysis of Apex Clean Energy’s Montcalm Wind project (see accompanying infobox) was commissioned by the Montcalm Economic Alliance (of which Apex is an investor) and was announced at a MEA meeting Wednesday afternoon in Greenville. The MEA and Montcalm Community College are both listed under “sponsorship” of the Upjohn study.
Upjohn report on Montcalm Wind
Montcalm Wind press release
Current investors of the MEA include Apex Clean Energy Holdings LLC, Bruce Noll, the city of Carson City, Commercial Bank, Consumers Energy, EightCAP Inc., Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce, Greenville Area Community Foundation, Greenville Tool & Die, Greenville Public Schools, Howard City Downtown Development Authority, Isabella Bank, Josh Gibbs, the village of Lakeview, Mercantile Bank, Michigan One Community Credit Union, Mid-Michigan District Health Department, Montcalm Area Intermediate School District, Montcalm Care Network, Montcalm Community College, Montcalm County, Montcalm Township, The Right Place, Sidney Bank, Spectrum Health United Hospital, the city of Stanton and United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties, while former Montcalm County controller-administrator Bob Clingenpeel is also listed as a supporting member.
Jim Robey of Robey Analytics, the lead author of the Upjohn report, gave the Montcalm Wind financial presentation to the MEA on Wednesday.
“I have no dog in this fight,” Robey said. “I was hired by (Upjohn) and with funding by Apex. I’m not here to be a booster, I’m here to take evidence-based analysis based in data, much of it based in what the experience was in the developed county (Isabella County) by Apex.
“It really is a lot of dollars,” he said. “I want to be clear – these are estimates, but they are the best estimates we can do. We worked closely with Apex on this.”
Apex has leased about 36,000 acres of land so far in Montcalm County, including 10,000 acres in Maple Valley Township with the remaining 26,000 acres “relatively evenly divided” among Cato, Douglass, Montcalm, Pierson, Pine and Winfield townships, according to Apex Senior Development Manager Albert Jongewaard. The Lakeview Community Schools district (Belvidere, Cato, Douglass, Maple Valley, Pine and Winfield townships) covers the largest portion of the proposed Montcalm Wind footprint.
Apex’s Isabella County wind project was completed in 2021 and is a 385 megawatt wind project with 136 turbines – the largest wind project in the state of Michigan – while Montcalm Wind is projected to be a 375 megawatt project with an estimated 75 turbines (5 megawatts per turbine).
“We’re proposing to use a newer model wind turbine and we propose to use taller turbines so there will be slightly fewer (than Isabella County),” Jongewaard noted.
‘WHAT HAPPENS IN YEAR 31?’
Montcalm County Commissioner Adam Petersen of Montcalm Township asked whether the Upjohn Institute is non-profit as well as non-partisan which Robey confirmed. Robey added that Upjohn has done work for The Right Place and United Way Ionia-Montcalm Counties.
“So what motivated you to do this study in Montcalm County?” Petersen pressed.
“I like doing this stuff,” Robey responded. “No dog in the fight at all.”
“What happens in year 31?” asked Montcalm Economic Alliance Executive Director Olivia Blomstrom (who has publicly voiced her concern about the wind project before she was hired as MEA director).
“Wind farms could operate beyond year 31,” Jongewaard noted. “In fact, the easement that we’re working with could allow for a couple extensions, it could extend into 50 years. You have two options: Either you repower your wind operation (thus resetting the tax schedule) and continue to operate it … or you decommission it, you take it down, and not at the expense of the community or the landowners. There is no scenario in which this wind project just sets out there and doesn’t operate, doesn’t spin.”
“Let’s say you decommission a wind turbine,” Montcalm County Commissioner Kathy Bresnahan of Pine Township said. “Where do the blades go, where do the parts go? We certainly don’t want them in the landfills.”
“Most of the operating wind turbines today, most of the material is recyclable. The blades, historically, have not been recyclable,” Jongewaard admitted. “Today, we can’t really repurpose those. They have been chopped up and thrown into landfills. The blades of the future, hopefully the blades that we will use here in Montcalm County, will be recyclable. I would like to say – but I can’t guarantee – that we will use those types of blades. It depends on when we build this project.”
Ben Wood, a business development specialist for The Right Place, previously worked as the general manager of Aquest Machining in Greenville and the general manager at Belding Tool & Machine. He questioned the possible downside of a wind farm coming to Montcalm County.
“It’s a lot of positive news, but there’s two sides to every coin,” Wood noted. “What are the negative effects of this? We see families getting paid for it, there’s a reason they’re being paid for it. What about the families that aren’t paid for it, the housing, the structures that are next to these turbines. What are the negative effects of those turbines?”
“I think it’s a perception issue at times,” Jongewaard responded. “I think it’s a very personal question. Some people don’t like the look of a turbine and I can’t change that. You can’t hide a 600-foot-tall tower, it’s there, it’s going to be there for a long time. There can be an aesthetic impact.”
But Jongewaard denied that a wind project would have any negative effects on property values or the health and wellbeing of people, animals and wildlife.
“If you look at the actual data, if you look at real estate sales in Gratiot County or in any community that has wind turbines operating today, there is not a negative impact on property values,” he said. “We’re seeing houses being built in Isabella County today, right in the middle of the biggest wind farm in the state. The real estate market in communities that have wind projects are vibrant real estate markets where houses continue to sell above value.
“The health issue is a non-issue,” he emphasized. “Safety and health impacts are, I assure you, a top priority. It would make zero sense for us to build a project irresponsibly and have negative impact on someone’s health.”
Regarding sound, “Don’t let anybody tell you that wind turbines are silent,” Jongewaard said. “They’re not silent, but they’re not loud. Go out there and just stand by one. Carson City is right over there. Carson City schools is benefiting from the wind farm in Gratiot County. Go out there and see it for yourself. “
“If this project goes through, after 75 turbines are built, is there potential that there would ever be more in this county?” Blomstrom asked.
“In this county? Perhaps,” Jongewaard responded. “Perhaps there would be more turbines in Montcalm County as a whole. But not within the existing footprint of the project.”
‘A WORD AND NUMBER SALAD’
Because Apex helped create and fund the Upjohn study, many are likely to greet the report with some skepticism, including Erik Benko, the founder of Montcalm County Citizens United.
Benko previously created and distributed his own report in April 2021 titled, “Estimated Net Annual Community Financial Impact for the Proposed ‘Montcalm Wind’ Project,” which he compiled utilizing a variety of online sources and studies. 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, but he claimed that the county could lose $36.6 million annually in total revenues if the project comes to fruition. Jongewaard has disputed the accuracy of Benko’s report.
Benko told the Daily News that to say he and other members of Citizens United are disappointed in the methodology and content of the Upjohn report, “would be an understatement.” He said he considers the Upjohn report to be “a direct response” to his own report, which he says was compiled with layperson residents and township officials in mind.
“We really would have expected Apex and Upjohn to follow suit in the creation of a transparent and intuitive document executed with humble intellectual honesty, but apparently that is asking too much,” Benko said. “Rather, what we received in this report is a word and number salad full of inflated projections and legalease the average person cannot hope to easily understand.
“Upon deeper investigation, it quickly becomes apparent that these projections include financial benefit to global stakeholders and narrowing down the exact direct benefits to Montcalm County and her residents is perilous at best,” he said.
“Furthermore, as we all know, there are real-world consequences to any endeavor, especially one so large and impactful as this this project presents. The fact that the Upjohn report does not even consider negative consequences to the community indicates that this report is nothing more than a paid advertisement for an out-of-state industrial developer pushing their immense project.”
Benko’s personal report can be found at mtcabw.org online.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE UPJOHN INSTITUTE STUDY
• The Montcalm Wind project is estimated to be a $776 million investment over its 30-year lifetime in Montcalm County, including $463 million on construction spending, $115 million in wages and operating, $118 million in rent payments to local farmers and landowners and $80 million in tax payments in local governments.
• The project is expected to create 876 construction phase jobs and 915 additional state and regional jobs (with intentional Michigan-based hiring), 48 longterm local jobs and 78 longterm state and regional jobs.
• The project would increase the tax base in Cato, Douglass, Maple Valley, Montcalm, Pine and Winfield townships by more than $230 million, a 20% increase on average and 45% in the first year.
• Annual lease payments totaling $4 million per year, or an average of $10,000 per year per family – a total of $118 million over 30 years, or an average of $300,000 per family – are anticipated to go to more than 400 families in Montcalm County who have leased with Apex.
• Montcalm County’s public schools would receive an estimated $17.5 million over 30 years for school debt and sinking funds and an additional $8.6 million in school operating taxes, including the Lakeview Community Schools district, which covers the largest portion of Apex’s proposed project area. The Montcalm Area Intermediate School District would receive an estimated $14.5 million over 30 years, while Montcalm Community College would receive an estimated $7.9 million.
• Montcalm County government’s general fund would receive an estimated $12.7 million over 30 years while local township governments would receive a total of $5.6 million.
• The Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office would receive an estimated $2.9 million over 30 years, while public libraries in the county would receive $2.6 million, Montcalm County ambulance/emergency services would receive $1.7 million, the Montcalm County Commission on Aging would receive $1.3 million, Montcalm County Veterans Affairs would receive $730,000 and Michigan State University Extension/4-H would receive $580,000.
• The wind project would also pay an estimated $2.9 million in state education tax payments on utility personal property such as underground collection lines, transmission lines and the project’s substation.
Sources: Upjohn Institute and Apex Clean Energy (visit research.upjohn.org/reports/274 to view the complete report)
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