Commercial Wind Power in Northern Michigan: Three Stories

“People just wanted to make sure we had things in place to protect the community—just because this is wind not coal doesn’t mean these are all good guys,” Roberts says.

A key concern: The community wanted sound financial assurance to remove abandoned wind turbines if a company were to go out of business.

So how did Roberts decide on the noise issue? For commercial systems near homes, parks and hospitals, the tower must be at least three times its height from the nearest occupied structure.

Benzie’s draft rules run eight pages and cover many points of construction and operation, but as far as the welcoming attitude is concerned, perhaps the most telling point is this: A Benzie-ite could build a 200-foot-tall wind turbine (30 feet shorter than the Traverse City turbine on M-72) for off-the-grid purposes and so long as the turbine met permit requirements, it would not have to undergo a single planning commission review. Instead, the approval would besimilar to passing a home construction inspection. The planning commission will hold a public meeting in November to take comments on the draft and then vote on whether to finalize the rules.

Cary Weed is not a member of Centerville’s planning commission or zoning board, but she volunteered to work on the wind ordinance subcommittee, comprised of regular citizens and two planning commission members, and was chosen to co-chair. Weed holds an architecture degree from University of California Berkley, and worked on sustainable development back in the 1970’s during grad school. She conducted a great deal of the research for the wind rules, including “the hard issues,” like noise and environmental issues.

Weed says she’s not anti-wind and understands the need for alternative energy, but her views prevailed on key points that resulted in a draft ordinance that would keep utility-scale wind out of the township.

The people of her township “are happy to contribute,” Weed says, “but our vision is not to become a power plant.” She would like to see alternatives that are “more appropriate for where we are, that acknowledge this is the kind of place we are and this is what our master plan says about us and this is what we value and this is the small size of the parcels we have.” The smaller size of farms and land parcels in Leelanau becomes an issue with setbacks and proximity to homes, especially when it comes to turbine noise, Weed says.

Weed feels that noise impacts on people are still not fully understood and that evidence is growing that low frequency noise in particular is having a greater impact on people than previously thought. Minnesota published a report in May 2009 analyzing low frequency sound from turbines, which Weed says is an outstanding summary of the issue. Key points were that the noise bothers some people not at all and others a lot, and that structures can actually amplify low frequency noise, not lessen it (for example, your house walls might pick up the vibration). Increasing setback distances is an effective way to lessen noise impact, but given the smaller parcels and tighter spacing of homes in Centerville, planners had to be careful to not make setbacks so long they would rule out every site in the township.

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