Seneca board approves wind turbine ordinance 2012.03.21

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Seneca Township board members unanimously approved an ordinance governing wind farm development last week, but within six days, notices were distributed to residents announcing plans for a referendum on the issue.

A letter signed by township residents Lori and Ron Glisson criticized the ordinance as unsafe and stated that a petition drive would soon get underway to place the issue on the ballot.

“Voters can then reject the ordinance, forcing it back to the board to be corrected,” the letter reads.

Chris White, a township board member who also serves on the planning commission, said the planning group had several meetings about the issue and received very little opinion from the public, either in support or in opposition.

Finally, at the group’s last meeting before a public hearing, commissioners did hear some opposition. Some good information was presented, White said, but it wasn’t of a nature that forced the board to start over with the ordinance.

“Our ordinance book is reviewed every two years,” he said, “and if new information develops, we’ll have the opportunity to amend it.”

On the other hand, White said he fully supports the referendum process if that’s what township residents want.

White said the planning commission was after a reasonable law that would allow development—giving property owners the right to use their land as they see fit—while protecting the safety of residents.

Commissioners reviewed several ordinances either in place or proposed in other townships and settled on Palmyra Township’s as a good model to follow.

White attended a presentation on the issue by MSU Extension and commissioners spent considerable time researching the issue. 

White said he doesn’t know of any developer interested in creating a wind farm in the township, but planners wanted to take a proactive approach and have an ordinance in place before any inquiries come in.

Limited space

Seneca Township has a rather limited amount of land available for wind farm development, White said, a fact confirmed by township resident Larry Gould, president of Great Lakes Wind.

The Seneca ordinance calls for a minimum setback from roads and property lines equal to three times the total height of the unit. This comes to 1,500 feet for an industrial turbine standing 500 feet into the air. Weston Road and a portion of Elliott Highway angle across the township, along with the railroad, which eliminates several sections of land. 

In addition, the portion of the township from Five Points (the intersection of Weston, Mulberry and Seneca) south to Morenci is zoned residential, where a wind farm is not allowed.

Several parcels have houses set back 800 or 900 feet from the road, White said. The setback requirement in those locations also wipes out many areas from development.

“There’s not a lot of land left,” Gould said. 

The crane rental to erect a turbine is very expensive, he said, and developers want a minimum of 25 to 30 turbines to make installation efficient. He doesn’t think there are enough suitable locations to reach that number.

“If you can’t get 25,” he said, “the township will never get a call.”

No matter how much suitable land exists, White said, there’s still a question about how many of those property owners would want to participate in a lease agreement with a wind company.

Gould said he’s taken farmers on tours to Paulding County where a 100-turbine wind farm is in operation.

“I want them to see what they’re in for,” he said.

They typically like the all-weather service drives that are installed because it gives heavy equipment a good route into fields.

Many in the agricultural community also like the farmland preservation aspect of a wind energy facility. If a 20-year lease is signed with a wind developer, he said, that land isn’t likely to be sold for residential use. In addition, farm use of the land continues around the turbines.

Gould said that Seneca Township is taking the right approach by putting an ordinance in place before residents could be influenced by a developer.

“Now developers can look at the ordinance and decide if they want to put up a tower,” he said.

Seneca’s ordinance addresses only industrial size turbines in an agricultural district, White said. In the future, he expects the planning commission to take a look a smaller units on residential land.

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