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MLUI Applauds Regional Wind Planning Process

Six-township zoning initiative is key to proper windpower development

February 9, 2011 |

National Renewable Energy Laboratory
  Michigan is the nation’s 14th-windiest state, and Benzie and Manistee Counties are rich in wind resources. Click to enlarge map

For Immediate Release
Tuesday February 8, 2011

Brian Beauchamp, Energy Policy Specialist
Michigan Land Use Institute
Phone: 231-941-6584 ext. 19 • Fax: 231-929-0937
Email: brian@mlui.org • Web site: www.mlui.org


Traverse City—The Michigan Land Use Institute has endorsed the new, innovative community process meant to help six Benzie and Manistee County townships deal with proposed and future utility-scale wind-energy development within their borders.

The non-profit organization also announced that it plans to participate in the process as a stakeholder. MLUI said its goal is to help the region develop wind power properly, while protecting the area’s quality of life, environment, and economy.

The new process, which was unveiled yesterday in Manistee, was devised over the past month by the Manistee County Alliance for Economic Success. It is in response to a proposal by Duke Energy Corporation to build 112 wind turbines in Benzie’s Blaine and Joyfield Townships and Manistee’s Pleasanton and Arcadia Townships. Bear Lake and Onekama Townships, although not in the area where this proposed project would be built, are nonetheless participating in the planning and zoning process.

Duke says the wind farm would represent a $360-million investment. It’s attracted strong support from many quarters, as well as strong opposition from two citizen groups that object to the project’s scale and potential quality of life and environmental problems.

The new process is entitled “Understanding Wind Initiative: Education and Technical Assistance about Wind Energy for Residents, Communities, Businesses, and Others in Benzie and Manistee Counties.”

The community process, which will be completed by April of this year, will provide expertise on wind-related zoning issues that largely fall outside the experience of local officials. This includes properly protecting residents from turbine sound, defending wildlife and the environment from significant harm, and maintaining the health, safety, and welfare of nearby residents.

Jim Lively, MLUI’s program director, said that the Traverse City non-profit, which was founded in Benzie and Manistee Counties in 1995, is not taking a position on Duke’s specific proposal. But, he said, the Institute strongly favors wind-energy development as a key to local and statewide prosperity and regional and national energy independence and for curbing dangerous, climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions from electrical generators, particularly coal-fired power plants.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity here for the community and local economy to embrace renewable energy development,” Mr. Lively said. “This unique process is just what is needed to ensure that legitimate concerns are addressed in a timely manner and that we find a way to take advantage of the opportunities that wind energy development brings to northwest Lower Michigan.”

The new process will identify questions that residents and decision makers have about utility-scale wind-energy development. The Michigan Association of Planners, based in Lansing, will provide written responses to those questions, based on input from experts and professionals in wind energy and policy.

The process will produce a report detailing questions and answers, and include references to relevant professional literature. The report will be presented to the community in forums to be held in both counties in the next three to four months.

The Understanding Wind Initiative will also provide technical assistance for assessing each township’s current ordinances and their ability to deal with various wind energy alternatives. The process will then assist in developing model ordinances.

Duke, among the world’s largest energy companies, says their project would generate 150 temporary construction jobs, 25 permanent turbine maintenance and operation jobs, and approximately $3.2 million in annual property tax revenue that would be split among the two counties and four townships.

The firm says that it has signed wind royalty leases with farmers and other large landowners collectively holding more than 10,000 acres of farmland, orchards, and woodlots along the Benzie-Manistee county border.

The Institute estimates that the wind-royalty leases, which like most private contracts are not subject to public scrutiny, would also generate between $1.34 million and $1.68 million in annual payments to landowners with turbines on their property and nearby residents who do not have turbines on their land. 

But, despite the economic benefits, many citizen concerns surround the proposed project. Those concerns include wind-turbine noise, turbine phenomena such as “flicker,” effects on aviary wildlife, changes to the local view shed, the effect of heavy construction activity on local roads and land, and the potential for reduced property values.

Mr. Lively said the Institute takes each of these concerns seriously.

“While the community has many understandable concerns about the effect that this type of development would have on nearby residents, the landscape, and wildlife,” he said, “properly designed wind developments can resolve most of them with reasonable setbacks and correct siting.

“This process will allow for a community discussion about what is reasonable,” he added.

Mr. Lively also pointed out that the landowners who have signed leases—or are considering doing so—have concerns, as well. He said most of the leaseholders are farmers, who have a right to the income their land can generate for them.

He added that local governments also have concerns, particularly given the sharp declines in revenue they are confronting during Michigan’s and the United States’ severe economic recession. For example, he said, Benzie County’s tax base so eroded over the past 18 months that the county had to drop its own planning and zoning service.

Program Director Lively promised that MLUI would participate actively in the process. He added that the Institute hopes the citizen groups currently raising concerns over Duke’s project—Citizens for Responsible Wind Development and the Arcadia Wind Study Group—and other, longstanding organizations would also get, and stay, involved.

Mr. Lively added that MLUI would continue to cover the issue via in-depth research, reporting, and journalism in order to communicate the best-available knowledge around these complex issues. Coverage of the process can be found at www.mlui.org.

He also said that MLUI regards clean energy as crucial to the region and the state. Mr. Lively pointed to the Institute’s strong opposition to new coal plants, including its role in helping to stop a proposed coal burner within Manistee’s city limits, in 2004. The Institute, he said, supports the prompt retirement of Michigan’s oldest, dirtiest ones and advocates for much heavier emphasis on energy efficiency to meet future demand while new, clean energy sources, including wind and solar power, grow and mature. 

The “Understanding Wind Initiative” is funded by a $70,000 grant from the C.S. Mott Foundation, of Flint, Mich., and will be administered by the Manistee Alliance for Economic Success.

About the Institute
The Michigan Land Use Institute is an independent, nonprofit research, educational, and service organization founded in 1995. More than 2,400 households, businesses, and organizations have joined the Institute in support of its mission to establish an approach to economic development that strengthens communities, enhances opportunity, and protects Michigan's unmatched natural resources.

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