By Jessica Hickey, staff writer

An expansive wind energy project is being planned for northwest Shiawassee County, and it seems the project has taken some stakeholders by surprise. Apex Clean Energy is exploring the possibility of erecting 30 to 60 wind turbines on private farmland in Rush, Middlebury, and Fairfield Townships in 2017–18. The turbines will generate a total of approximately120MW, enough to power 33,000 homes. Although the wind farm will bring jobs and tax revenue to the county, some residents are concerned about the drawbacks of the project and are particularly concerned about the lack of public notification thus far.

“I would like the people in our township to have a say in this, given it is affecting us,” said Rush Township resident Lois Walker. Her home is adjacent to two properties slated to house wind turbines. The project, called Maple Rapids Wind, has already been discussed at the county level, having been brought before the County Commissioners and County Planning and Zoning. But Walker said she first learned about the project two weeks ago, when a neighbor heard about a meeting being held by Apex for the farmers who have already signed leases to house turbines on their property. Like some other residents who may soon be living next to a 600 feet tall wind turbine, Walker is concerned about the impact the turbines will have on her home and daily life, including potentially decreased property values, increased noise levels, and flicker or shadows caused by the turbines’ spinning blades.

Resident Jeff Minton will also share a border with the wind farm if Maple Rapids Wind comes to fruition. Like Walker, he wonders why there has so far been no notification of the neighbors. “How can a project of this magnitude be kept so quiet? It seems the only people in Shiawassee County who know anything about it are a handful of county officials and the signed leaseholders. Residents and business owners need to step up to voice their opinions in the direction of our county commissioners and Shiawassee zoning and planning,” said Minton. John Horvath was one of five county commissioners who, in June, approved an amendment to the zoning ordinance relating to Wind Energy Conversion Systems, changing the maximum height of turbines from 500 feet to 600 feet. Horvath said that until he saw a community news article late in September, he wasn’t aware there were any resident concerns.

Brad Lila, Director of Project Development for Apex, said the Maple Rapids Wind project is still in the development/feasibility phase and no permit applications have been submitted to the county yet. When asked about the concerns being voiced by residents, Lila said “Apex fully intends to meet with landowners.” Public hearings will be held, as they are built into the process of obtaining a permit for a project like this. “The county permitting process will protect the homeowners,” Lila said, referring to the setback, height, and noise requirements set forth in the zoning ordinance. Lila also pointed out that, with the impending closure of 25 coal plants in Michigan, wind energy is an efficient and cost-effective source of new energy generation. “If not wind, then what?” he asked. Michigan currently imports coal from other states, a costly and non-sustainable solution. In addition to being one of the cheapest forms of energy generation available, wind energy supports local farmers by providing a welcome annual payment. “Farming is a risky business. A wind lease is a great way to keep the farm in the family during slow times,” Lila said. Apex also participates in the common practice of offering monetary compensation to homeowners whose property is adjacent to turbine locations, in the form of “good neighbor agreements.”

Rush Township Clerk Debbie Goschke became aware of the Maple Rapids Wind project recently, when calls started coming in to her office from worried residents. “People are very concerned about noise, loss of wildlife, and the view of the country being ruined. There are a lot of unknowns,” she said. Goschke has invited Shiawassee County Community Planner Peter Preston to speak at the township’s next meeting on Thursday, Oct. 13. She hopes Preston will be able to shed some light on the proposed project and answer residents’ questions. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Rush Township Hall in Henderson, and the public is welcome to attend.

Wind Farm Generates Questions was last modified: October 10th, 2016 by Karen Elford