2010-04-11 / Front Page

County planners take public comments on proposed new wind farm regulations

A crowd of about 175 people crowded the Huron County Expo Center Wednesday night as the Huron County Planning Commission held a public hearing on proposed changes to rules for wind farms.

The public hearing lasted nearly two hours, and about two dozens people spoke about the proposed changes to rules that govern the sites for the massive wind turbines.

Opponents of the wind parks argued that the proposed changes – which could increase the setback from a neighboring dwelling from 1,000 feet to 1,320 feet and decrease the allowable noise levels from the turbines from 50 to 45 decibels -- were not restrictive enough.

Based on reports from those in attendance, opponents also repeated their concerns about health issues relating to wind turbine vibrations at both audible and sub-audible frequencies and their effects on the health of nearby residents.

A majority of the crowd at the public hearing was reported to be supportive of the efforts to increase the number of wind farms in the county.

Wind energy companies pay to lease the land where the turbines are located. Some members of the planning commission have signed leases with wind energy companies.

Current wind turbines are about 260 feet tall at the hub, stretching to 390 feet to the top of a turbine blade and can each produce up to about 1.5 megawatts of power daily.

The coal-fired electric DTE plant at Harbor Beach, by comparison, produces about 125 megawatts of power daily.

The wind energy industry currently enjoys federal subsidies for wind farm construction.

The power output from the wind turbines is dependent on wind speed. Winds must be at least 8 mph to produce electricity.

Power produced by the turbines is fed into the electric power grid that serves residents across the Upper Thumb.

The proposed rules will directly affect about half of the residents of the county. The county planning commission sets the zoning requirements for townships that do not have their own planning body.

Huron County Building & Planning Director Russ Lundberg said the planning commission tabled action on the wind farm rules Wednesday night and will accept written comments on the new regulations until April 14.

Comments can be mailed or delivered to the Huron County Building and Zoning Dept., 250 E. Huron, Bad Axe 48413.

Lundberg said the nine planning commission members will have the opportunity to review any written statements along with the comments at the April 7 public hearing prior to their next regular meeting on Wednesday May 5 at 7 p.m.

Lundberg said there will be no opportunity for further public comments on the wind farm issue at that meeting.

Consumers Energy has secured easements for nearly 60,000 acres to date for wind farm development in Huron, Tuscola and Mason County. The wind farms will be owned and operated by Consumers Energy.

The Consumers wind farm expected to be located in Tuscola County and Huron County will be called the Cross Winds Energy Park.

It is scheduled for commercial operation in two phases in 2015 and 2017.

Recently, the Michigan Public Service Commission designated an area that includes parts of Tuscola, Huron, Bay, Saginaw, and Sanilac counties as the state's primary wind energy resource zone.

As part of the development of the Lake Winds Energy Park, Consumers Energy has issued a request for proposal to five preselected manufacturers of wind turbine generators.

Wind parks currently in operation in the county are John Deere operations of 46 turbines in Bingham Twp. near Ubly and 32 units in Oliver Twp. between Elkton and Pigeon. – Mike Arnholt

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