By Mary Drier
UNIONVILLE — Another step was taken Monday night toward developing a wind farm in northern Tuscola County by Consumers Energy (CE).
The Columbia Township Planning Commission hosted a public hearing on CE’s request for a “special use permit” for their Cross Winds Energy Park.
The township hired Spicer Engineers to help review the documentation and compliance with the zoning ordinance, permits, and other necessary procedures.
CE plans to build 19 turbines, with one alternate location, access roads, a meteorological tower, an electrical collection system and facilities in Sections 1- 36 of the township, explained Senior Planner Robert Eggers with Spicer.
The proposed lay-out of the farm’s turbines exceeds the township’s setback requirements. The ordinance requires a minimum of 1,000 feet from a lease residence, 500 feet from a non-lease residence, and 479 feet from roads. CE’s design has a setback of 1,370 feet from a lease residence, 720 feet from a non-lease residence and a road.
Spicer reviewed the special use request, determined it met the township’s zoning ordinance regarding wind development, and recommended approval.
Before the commission voted to approve the request with conditions of more documentation on noise and shadow flicker studies, permit approval documentation and decommissioning, each commission member declared whether they had a conflict of interest in the issue. Because they have land leased for the project, Dick Dehmel, Ed Spannagel, and Dave Sting did have a conflict while Robert Becker, Tom Zimmer, Carl Desimpelare did not.
According to township Attorney Gary Howell as long as a conflict is made known, members may vote in order to conduct business.
Dave Desimpelare was absent and did not vote, and Zimmer cast the lone “no” vote.
Some of the issues raised during discussion were: the park’s possible interference with television, radio, and cellular phone signals, and that there was a mitigation process is place as well as a complaint resolution system.
There was a blade that broke on a turbine in a a DTE wind farm in Huron County earlier this year, and how the manufacturer is taking quality control steps.
That the four meteorological towers in the park are to study and validate turbine performance.
That turbines would have both on-site and remote control operation with an operation center in Akron Township with 11 employees.
And, that first-responder training on handling incidents that could occur would be developed.
During the economic benefit presentation, it was noted the project would have about a $160 million direct and in-direct benefit to the state, have about a $1.6 million benefit to land owners in the park per year, and generate about $1.4 million in taxes over 20 years; and that the company plans to “pay its fair share of taxes” according to the state formula on taxing wind farms.
On the issue of health concerns, it was noted that 19 property owners in Mason County, where CE has a wind farm, filed lawsuits claiming health problems from them.
CE representatives declined to comment because the lawsuit is pending, but noted their study and several others contend there is no health impact. However, audience member Cathy Pettit says she found information to the contrary on the Internet that there is.
CE’s Communication Director Dennis Marvin countered there is lot of information on both sides of issue on the Internet but cautioned to check sources, and that turbines have been in use around the world for several years.
Another audience member questioned the cost of wind against traditional energy sources of nearly three to one.
CE representatives explained several factors have to be considered in comparing costs – tax credit incentives, contract and operation costs, and more.
However, the main point is state law requires energy companies have a minimum of 10 percent of power coming from renewable energy by 2015.
The next steps in the process of developing a wind farm in is site-plan approval in both Columbia and Akron townships. Columbia Township officials hope to be able to schedule those the first part of September.
In Akron Township, public hearings for site plan review will be 5 p.m., Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 26 and 27 at the township hall at 4380 Beach St., Akron
In July, Akron Township’s Planning Commission approved CE’s special use request to build 43 turbine locations, with two alternate locations, access roads, three meteorological towers, an electrical collection system, a lay-down yard as well as equipment and facilities in Sections 2 – 4, Sections 8-36 of the township.
When site plans are approved, CE plans to start building the base for turbines and access roads this year with completion of the project by the end of 2014.
More information on Cross Winds Energy Park can be found at the website spicerplanners.wordpress.com and at www.crosswindsenergypark.com.
Mary Drier is a staff writer for the Tuscola County Advertiser. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.