REBECCA ZEMLA can be seen presenting Shiawassee County Planning Commission members with “additional protections” from wind turbines during the commission’s May 8 meeting at Owosso High School. Zemla, along with many other residents, pleaded with the commission to consider the views of its residents before making a decision on a new countywide wind energy ordinance, and several requested additional protections be considered.
(Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)
by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
The Shiawassee County Planning Commission met on Tuesday, May 8 at Owosso High School, with between 100 and 200 interested residents in attendance to witness the commission’s final discussion about the county’s wind energy ordinance. After nearly two years of discussion, the planning commission voted unanimously on May 8 to forward the revised ordinance to the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners for final approval.
During the two-hour meeting, the commission heard pleas from many county residents who requested “additional protections” against wind turbines be “entered into evidence” before the commission made its final ruling. While a few of those in attendance were in favor of wind energy, it was evident that the crowd had assembled to stand together to ensure their opinions were heard by the commission. Many had even come together to create “Invasive Species” t-shirts for the meeting as a display of solidarity.
Several individuals expressed privately following the May 8 meeting that they were completely against wind energy in Shiawassee County. However, the requests made by the group of residents led by Kevon Martis, the director of the Interstate Informed Citizen’s Coalition, helped influence the commission’s ruling, which would impose morerestrictive guidelines on wind energy developers.
The maximum allowable wind turbine height was lowered to 450 feet – from the 600 feet allowed under the current ordinance – with a setback of 350 percent of the turbine height from the property line of non-participating land owners, which is a drastic change from the currently allowed setback of 150 feet of the turbine’s height.
The commission lowered the acceptable level of noise generated by turbines to an Lmax noise level of 45 decibels at non-participating property lines, which is down from the current 55 decibels. Also, the proposed ordinance will not allow shadow flicker on non-participating properties.
The current wind energy moratorium prohibits the construction of turbines in Shiawassee County until June 30, 2018. Apex Clean Energy has said it has abandoned its plan to build wind turbines in Shiawassee County, but Tradewind Energy Senior Development Manager Brad Pnazek, who spoke during the May 8 meeting, said that, while the new ordinance is certainly more restrictive, Tradewind Energy is still committed to working in Shiawassee County.
“Our job is to make sure the decision makers are presented with the correct information, and it is on them to come to a conclusion that citizens can agree with,” said Pnazek. “We felt that the ordinance, as it currently stands on the books, is the right way to go. These restrictions here do not take into account where the technology is today. Wind turbines are higher than 450 feet. I understand why they (the planning commission) are doing this; they are trying to listen to the residents. This ordinance is not favorable, and it is way more restrictive than the state of Michigan’s guidelines, but we will have to see what happens.”
Kevon Martis was the evening’s first speaker and he was followed by Pnazek and three of his Tradewind Energy employees. Both sides were given 10 minutes to address the commission.
Wind energy critics, led by Martis, laid out their concerns throughout the meeting, which include possible decreased property values; the dangers of ice throw, shadow flicker, noise and light pollution, and sleep deprivation; the threat to wildlife; the possible effects turbines could have on the county’s hunting industry; and decommissioning, among other issues. Several speakers asked the commission to consider future generations, and many shared their fear of turbines negatively impacting land that has been handed down through the generations.
The Board of Commissioners will meet Monday, May 14 at the Surbeck Building in Corunna to discuss the proposed wind energy ordinance, though the board could delay a final vote to implement the new ordinance until June.