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Windpower Study in Hand, Three Townships Consider Zoning

But an election leaves a fourth unable to regulate land use

December 2, 2011 | By Glenn Puit
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Jim Dulzo/MLUI
  The new study found that large turbines, like those in McBain, Mich., can now produce competitively priced electricity.

Duke Energy’s proposal for a commercial wind farm in Benzie and Manistee Counties is facing its next, critical phase: Officials in the four townships in the project’s proposed footprint must make tough decisions about how best to regulate wind turbines in their communities.

Those townships, however, do have a new report in hand that is meant to help. It’s called the Understanding Wind Initiative: Answers to Submitted Questions. Its authors say they hope it will assist these officials—and others across Michigan—craft plans and ordinances that shape commercial wind development.

“I could not be more satisfied (with the new report),” said Bradley Hopwood, a member of the Arcadia Township Planning Commission, which is considering Duke’s proposal for turbines in their community.

“The (UWI report) will provide community planners in Benzie and Manistee Counties with a single resource of information that will be used to better understand all concerns about commercial wind energy acceptance and development, in addition to serving as a valuable guide in ordinance development,” Mr. Hopwood said.

The 115-page report follows the release, in the early fall, of the results of a wind energy symposium conducted in July by the UWI team, and of a community survey the project mailed to all property owners in the four townships, as well as two adjacent townships that could someday see windpower development proposals, too.

Read the Great Lakes Bullentin News Service summary of the new UWI report on Page 2 of this news article.

Township by Township
Because of the strong, unusually steady winds that sweep across them, the four townships—Manistee’s Pleasanton and Arcadia, and Benzie’s Joyfield and Blaine—are  deemed to be among Michigan’s most suitable areas for commercial wind development, according to a 2009 report of the Michigan Wind Energy Resource Zone Board.

Duke wants to erect approximately 112 turbines in the four townships, a proposal that has aroused strong opposition from several citizen groups.

Currently three of the four townships are developing new ordinance language to address siting and approval of commercial wind farms within their borders. A fourth township currently has no zoning at all.

Township officials in Pleasanton Township said they are now moving forward with crafting a commercial wind ordinance.

“We are still working on it,” Pleasanton Township Supervisor Tony Merrill said. “We just extended our moratorium (on wind development) for six months, so we are hoping to get it done in that time frame.”

Arcadia Township’s Bradley Hopwood said in an email that his township is continuing its moratorium on applications for what it calls “grid scale wind energy systems” (GSWES) because the township Planning Commission and Board of Trustees  believe that existing regulations “are insufficient to protect public  health, safety and welfare. The planning commission is currently reviewing existing GSWES ordinance text.”

Blaine Township is also maintaining a moratorium on large-scale turbine development while it works on its own wind ordinance.

However, in Joyfield Township there is no clarity about how officials will regulate wind power. The township has no zoning ordinance to regulate wind development—or, in fact, any other land use. Voters there recently recalled three township officials amid allegations of a conflict of interest regarding the Duke project, but they also turned down a millage request that would have paid for establishing planning and zoning.

Kurt Schindler, a veteran certified planner and land use expert, was asked whether a township with no zoning could face the immediate development of large-scale windpower.

“In terms of starting to work without a zoning permit, yes,” he said. “But there are other permits one has to obtain that could cause some delay: construction code, mechanical, electrical, and so forth. Also, there are processes one goes through with the Michigan Public Service Commission, oversize load approvals from MDOT, road commission, and so on.”

This summer Duke indicated that, during 2012, it will likely shift the focus of its project from the four townships to just two—Joyfield and Pleasanton, where they have a large number of leases already signed and where their own survey information indicates stronger community support.

Yet Duke is not likely to begin construction of its wind farm in Joyfield Township until it finds a buyer for the electricity it would produce. Duke has not publicly indicated whether it has accomplished this step.

An earlier UWI report confirmed what many in Benzie and Manistee Counties already know: The Duke proposal is highly divisive in this scenic, rural region. According to the UWI survey, 41 percent of respondents said they either “strongly oppose” or “oppose” local wind energy development in their area, while 35 percent said they “strongly support” or “support” it.

Opposition to wind energy development is strongest in Arcadia and Blaine townships.

But the survey also found that full-time residents of Benzie and Manistee were more likely to support local wind energy development than seasonal residents. Duke, meanwhile, has expressed disappointment with not being allowed to be a stakeholder in the Understanding Wind Initiative.

Click here to read our summary of UWI researchers’ answers to hundreds of questions posed by Manistee and Benzie County residents regarding wind power. Glenn Puit is a policy specialist at the Michigan Land Use Institute. Reach him at glenn@mlui.org.

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