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Shiawassee County officials putting more rules on wind

SHIAWASSEE COUNTY, Mich. — Shiawassee County planning officials have passed a strengthened ordinance to regulate development of wind turbines in the county, casting doubt on the prospects for wind development.

The county Planning Commission passed the ordinance at a May 7 public meeting by unanimous vote. The new ordinance still has to be voted on by the county Board of Commissioners, probably later this summer. A one-year moratorium on wind development is also scheduled to expire this summer; however, county officials may extend the moratorium for a brief period.

People spoke out both for and against the ordinance, which tightened restrictions on turbine height as well as setback distance, according to multiple reports. After some votes failed, commissioners settled on a maximum height of 450 feet for turbines, with a setback of 350 percent of the height and a sound level of no more than 45 decibels, the reports stated.

Some people wanted more protection, while others wanted no wind turbines.

Today’s wind turbines are 480-490 feet in height, said Brad Pnazek, senior development manager at Tradewind Energy, a Kansas-based firm that is trying to get approval to build a 200-megawatt wind development in the county. Apex Clean Energy, a Virginia-based company, also wants to build wind turbines there.

“They’re trying to satisfy people who are opposed to the project,” Pnazek said. “Do you want 5 percent of the people to prevent what 95 percent of the people want? At this point, the well might be kind of poisoned. At this point things aren’t looking that good.”

He decried what he described as outside forces stirring up anti-wind sentiment in the county, which includes nine townships.

“We have 15,000 acres of property where people want to do it,” he said. “We have a robust compensation package” for those who have wind turbines placed on their property.

Pnazek wouldn’t provide firm numbers on what landowners would actually get. Sometimes people receive a certain amount of money per megawatt they have on their property, and people are compensated in other ways. For example, landowners are compensated for the land compaction that occurs on their property due to turbine construction as well as for any access roads that are built.

The board assembled a draft wind ordinance earlier this year, which had input from nine different township boards that responded to a survey, according to one report. In January 2017 the planning board put a one-year moratorium on any wind energy project while the county studied how to put together an ordinance that everyone, more or less, could agree upon.

“Ultimately, the Board of Commissioners needs to determine the point at which the constraints and setbacks infringe on the property rights of landowners to decide what they can or cannot do on their property,” Pnazek said.

“The modifications that are being proposed in the amendment approved by the Planning Commission set constraints that would prohibit a wind project from feasibly being sited in the county.”

Pnazek said the current ordinance falls in line with the wind guidelines issued by the Michigan State University extension office.

Each member of the Board of Commissioners, as well as the director of Community Development, were contacted last week for a comment, but none had responded as of press time.

According to the stock research firm Macquarie Research, wind energy companies are pushing to construct wind developments now, because production tax credits for the developments will be dramatically reduced over the next couple years.