Opinions mixed on industrial wind farms 2012.06.20

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

No one can accuse Lori Glisson of being a NIMBY. She’s not someone who can tolerate wind turbines as long as they’re “Not In My Back Yard.”

She’s leading the effort to alter Seneca Township’s new wind energy ordinance even though there won’t be a turbine in her back yard.

The Glissons live in the section of Seneca Township that’s zoned residential and wind turbines are off limits in that area.

Glisson said she’s followed wind energy developments for 10 years and she’s taken an interest in the ill health effects that many people report. Wind development companies tend to dismiss complaints, but the reports of problems continue as wind farms increase in number.

Glisson said she wasn’t aware that the Seneca Township planning commission was working on wind power regulations until she read in the Observer that an ordinance was being patterned after the one in Palmyra Township—an ordinance that’s much less restrictive than Riga Township’s.

She believes Seneca’s ordinance was rushed into place without addressing the concerns she presented to the board. After the township board approved the ordinance in March, Glisson says she was left with no option other than to seek a referendum that would allow all township residents to decide if the new law sufficiently protects citizens.

She had no trouble obtaining enough signatures for the referendum vote and now she’s working to explain wind farm operations to people before the Aug. 7 vote.

Glisson has scheduled an informational meeting at 7 p.m. June 27 at the Morenci American Legion. Representatives of the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition (IICC) will attend the meeting. The group’s goal is to raise public awareness of health and safety issues related to industrial wind turbines.

“I don’t have a problem with turbines if they’re not impacting people,” Glisson said, but she thinks much greater protection is needed for non-participating residents—those who aren’t willing to sign a lease for the construction of a turbine.

The Seneca ordinance allows a turbine to be erected a distance of three times its height from a non-participating resident’s house. The sound is limited to 45 decibels, as measured at a resident’s home.

People’s reactions to living near an industrial turbine are mixed and very subjective. Many people aren’t bothered by them at all; others complain about the noise—from the whooshing of the blades, from occasional mechanical noises when the turbine heads are turned, and from a low-frequency noise that’s felt by some individuals, as when a car stereo with a loud base drives by.

Many people are also bothered by rapidly moving shadows (known as shadow flicker) from turbine blades during a certain part of the day.

In Glisson’s view, if turbines can’t be placed in Seneca Township in a way that avoids these problems, then they don’t belong there.

Moving north

Last November Riga Township residents voted nearly two to one to uphold an ordinance that wind farm developers said effectively banned them from erecting turbines in the township. Setback requirements and noise limits were more restrictive than developers could tolerate for efficient operation.

A company known as Blissfield Wind Energy canceled its plans to develop a wind farm in the Riga/Palmyra area and instead turned its interest north toward Gratiot and Ionia counties.

Plans were already underway for a wind energy facility on farmland situated between Alma and Saginaw, in Gratiot County. In March of this year, 133 wind turbines went on-line to create what is currently Michigan’s largest wind farm.

The turbines measure 463 feet from the ground to the tip of the blade and cost an average of $3.3 million each—made possible with large federal subsidies. The project spans about 30,000 acres of farmland that involves portions of four townships.

Breckinridge farmer Kent Humm, who is also a Bethany Township board trustee, said collaboration between the townships was underway before wind development was on the horizon.

It made sense for the townships to continue working together for the development of a wind energy ordinance, Humm said, and eventually a public hearing was scheduled to involve residents from all four areas.

Each group made sure that any subdivision areas were zoned residential to keep turbines at a distance.

“Originally there were to be no more than four turbines per section [square mile],” Humm said. Now that they’re erected, the majority of the property involved has no more than one or two per section.

Humm has four turbines on his farms that total 800 acres. Most of the turbines are placed off to the edge of farmland to minimize interferences with crops.

Participating land owners received an initial $1,000 payment. Developers suggested the money could be used for legal fees if participants wanted an attorney to examine the contracts.

Property owners now receive $6.23 annually for every acre in the lease, even though a turbine takes up a small portion of a field.

Any property owner is invited to join in—not just farmers with large acreage. 

“At least they’re involved,” Humm said. “Everyone is getting treated the same.”

Everyone involved will share in a pool of money equal to four percent of the developer’s gross profits. Developers suggested this could be about $65 an acre. For Humm, that includes 25 acres of woods.

Developers figure a turbine takes up about three acres and they pay $300 per acre at each turbine location. Humm said the turbine near his house actually took about three-fourths of an acre out of production, and there’s nothing he could grow that would bring in as much cash as what he’s getting from turbine leases.

Humm admits there are pros and cons to the issue. 

“Is it going to solve our electrical needs?” he asked.

Of course not, but it will contribute toward meeting the always increasing demand for power.

And, yes, they make noise, but nothing that troubles his family. 

“You get accustomed to it,” Humm said, just like people who live near a railroad or some other source of sound.

He knows that the shadow flicker bothers some people, but it doesn’t last long when it occurs—unlike the ceiling fans in his house that produce a flicker as long as they’re running.

There are always some people who will complain, Humm said, but that number appears to be small in his area. By and large, he thinks area residents are pleased to be part of the state’s largest wind energy facility.

He likes the appearance of them and enjoys watching them spin.

That’s not the case for many people including Lori Glisson.

“The more I research them, the less I like them,” she said, “and the more determined I get.”

The success or failure of her campaign to alter the existing ordinance—to make changes she believes will better protect the citizens of Seneca Township—won’t be known until after the Aug. 7 vote.

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