11/24/09 A TALE OF TWO STATES: What's the secret to wind development in the midwest? Eliminate local control.
Wisconsin Supreme Court denies Calumet County wind turbine review
By Jim Collar
Post-Crescent staff writer
CHILTON — Calumet County supervisors jumped the gun on new wind turbine rules this summer even while asking the state Supreme Court to consider whether its old ordinance met legal muster.
A denial from Wisconsin’s justices will now require the county to put that early work to action.
The state Supreme Court on Friday denied Calumet County’s petition for review of an appeals court decision that invalidated the county’s wind turbine rules. The ordinance dictated setbacks and maximum heights and sound levels for all turbine construction within its zoning jurisdiction.
Wisconsin’s 2nd District Court of Appeals struck down the ordinance in July, saying each proposed project has to be reviewed on its own merits.
Turbine construction has been a contentious issue for years in the rural county, pitting farmers considering the potential for income against residential property owners with concerns including health and aesthetics.
Chester Dietzen, chairman of the county’s planning, zoning and farmland preservation committee, said supervisors made good use of their time since asking the Supreme Court for review. The committee already held a public hearing on proposed ordinance changes, which clears the path to forward compliant rules to the county board for consideration.
“We’re ahead of the game,” he said.
The decision stemmed from a 2006 lawsuit filed against Calumet County by a Town of Stockbridge farmer who sought to add four turbines to his property. The county, however, placed a moratorium on construction after Marvin Ecker Jr. declared his intention, and then passed the ordinance that tightened requirements.
The appeals court found the County Board overstepped its authority.
The county’s petition to the Supreme Court argued that appellate judges read beyond the plain language of state statutes and imposed limits on municipalities that weren’t contemplated by the state Legislature.
“Supreme Court review will clarify the proper role of municipalities in the regulation of wind energy systems,” the petition said.
County supervisors said the revised ordinance would give individual consideration to construction proposals through conditional use permits.
A new ordinance will also become moot in time due to a newly passed law that directed the state’s Public Service Commission to draft statewide regulations for turbine placement.
While those rules will override local ordinances, Dietzen said passage of a new ordinance would protect county interests in the meantime.
Dietzen said it could be up to a year before the statewide rules are enacted.
BIG WIND VS: SMALL GOVERNMENT:
Noise limits and setbacks debated
By Kate Hessling, Tribune Staff Writer
Huron Daily Tribune
24 November 2009
BAD AXE — A public hearing held Monday served as the forum for a variety of interests, as local government officials, wind developers and residents gave input on the effect of wind turbine setback requirements and noise limitations on wind energy development.
Local officials saw Monday’s hearing, which was held by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), as a last-chance opportunity to implore state officials to keep control of zoning for wind turbine setbacks and noise limitations with local governments.
Representing the Huron County Planning Commission, Building and Zoning Director Russ Lundberg said Huron County has a track record in the form of the only two commercial-scale wind projects in Michigan. He said the projects, which achieve the state’s goal of harnessing energy from wind power, were possible because of local zoning. The county’s approach to local wind turbine zoning is to allow them in agricultural areas, so as to preserve the area’s agricultural heritage.
This approach, Lundberg said, benefits the state and local area, and there is no need for the state to preempt local zoning.
District 2 Huron County Commissioner Dave Peruski agreed with Lundberg, noting it should be up to the local area to determine the best way wind development projects and the general public can co-exist.
He said Huron County has first-hand experience and knowledge of commercial-scale wind turbine developments, and the state does not.
“We live with them — we should be able to make the rules for them,” Peruski said.
Developers encourage standardized zoning
Developers used Monday’s hearing as a forum to note that while it’s important to work with local government officials and have some local zoning requirements in order for any wind development project to be successful, there needs to be some sort of standard in the state for turbine setback requirements and noise limitation for wind energy development to work in Michigan.
Brad Lila, of Renewable Energy Systems Americas Inc. (RES Americas), said there is a lack of consistency and certainty regarding zoning requirements for turbine setback and noise limitations in the state. Because of this, he said, it makes it difficult for developers to plan large projects. Lila said it’s important to reconcile the interest of the public to that of the interest of project participants, and local governments are crucial to achieving that balance.
Unfortunately, Lila said, setback distances and noise emitted from turbines are complex issues. At times it can be difficult, if not impossible, to build a project if local zoning provisions include overly-strict standards based on “unfounded fears or assumptions.”
Many of the residents in attendance Monday to speak against wind energy development in their area took offense to that statement, saying their fears are not unfounded — particularly when it comes to health issues they say have been experienced by some who live near wind turbines.
A majority of the residents who spoke Monday were opposed to wind energy development in their area, citing concerns that turbines sited too close to homes will cause health problems, declining property values, a loss of scenic value and wildlife, and other detrimental effects to the environment.
“We don’t treat enemy combatants this bad,” said Robert McLean, of Minden City, in regard to the “torture” he says some have experienced because turbines have been sited as close to 1,000 feet to their home.
A number of residents from the Ubly area gave first-hand accounts of health issues they’ve experienced from turbines being sited too close to their homes.
Marilyn Peplinski said she and her husband have had to rent an apartment to go to on nights when the turbines make too much noise for them and their children to sleep. She referred to a variety of health problems she says her family has experienced as a result of sleep deprivation.
Peplinski wanted to know who is protecting the fundamental rights — including the right of an individual to be safe in his/her home — of the people of Huron County.
“It’s undeserved, unacceptable and it’s not the Huron County way,” she said.
Jan Ramboski, of Port Hope, said she feels the health issues have been dismissed by developers.
“The companies building them, in my opinion, don’t care,” she said. “It’s the big buck — and I don’t mean deer.”
She said the entire Thumb should get a say in whether future wind projects should be allowed in the area, not just local landowners.
Regarding fears that wind developments will cause property values to plummet, local realtors said they were concerned no one will want to live in an area riddled with wind turbines.
Retirees expressed fears that the scenic beauty of the area they chose to spend the rest of their life in will be forever marred if a number of commercial-scale wind turbine developments are allowed to be constructed.
Others were concerned about ill effects a large number of turbines will have on the hunting and tourism industries.
Thomas Peruski, who lives a half-mile west of Ubly, said he hasn’t seen a deer near his home since the Michigan Wind 1 wind farm went online last year.
He expressed displeasure with the fact that decisions that will be made at the state level will be decided by individuals who do not live in the areas that are affected. Thomas Peruski said the power generated by these wind projects do not even benefit those living in the nearby vicinity, though everyone has to pay surcharges on their utility bills to fund the alternative energy developments.
Many of those in attendance agreed, saying wind energy may not be the most viable solution, particularly because it is not a constant source of energy, is very expensive and would be subsidized by ratepayers and the government. As a result, many encouraged the state officials present to consider a different sort of alternative energy, such as solar power.
One resident suggested the state should consider giving subsidies to residents to help them put solar panels or other small-scale renewable energy devices on their homes.
Not all of the comments given at Monday’s hearing were opposed to local wind energy development in the local area, however.
Keith Iseler, a Port Hope resident who said he is one of many landowners to sign contracts with RES Americas, said wind energy is important for the sake of making progress. He noted if nothing is done, the area will be left in the dust.
Also, Iseler said, it’s possible to make improvements as projects progress, as wind companies are willing to negotiate and work with area residents and local government officials.
Iseler added he doesn’t see why wind energy development can’t be successful in the Thumb if there is proper supervision.
Mixed responses on state zoning noise, setback requirements
Regarding whether it would be better to have the state institute zoning standards or have control stay at the local level, there were mixed responses given during Monday’s meeting.
Carl Duda, of Bad Axe, said while he is concerned that officials are not giving the entire truth regarding the health effects associated with wind turbines, he fears that if the state takes over control of local zoning, the result will be having thousands of turbines pushed into Huron County in a short time.
Charlie Parcells, of Port Hope, agreed, adding he can’t decide if the Thumb needs the protection of the state or protection from the state.
Parcells said he can’t fault any landowner for doing what he or she feels is what’s best for their family by participating in wind development projects. However, at the same time, he said he feels putting thousands of windmills in the Thumb is a bad idea.
Quite of few of the residents who spoke during Monday’s hearing expressed opposition to the MPSC delegating the Thumb as a wind energy zone, which is an area that would be most productive for wind energy. Delegating a wind energy zone will help expedite wind energy development as efforts, such as upgrading transmission capabilities.
Many residents feared that having the area named as a wind energy zone will open the door to thousands of turbines being erected in the Thumb in the next five years.
As a result, a large number of residents focused their concerns on the effects this would have on the area’s health, environment, property values and scenery.
Lake Township Clerk Valerie McCallum questioned a portion of the state’s energy law passed last year that states the MPSC’s designation of a wind zone is not allowed to represent an unreasonable threat to the public convenience, health and safety and that any adverse impacts on private property values are minimal.
She particularly wanted to know what constitutes “unreasonable” or “minimal,” and asked if “reasonable risk” includes someone being driven away from their home because they can’t sleep at night.
McCallum said the MPSC and state have to make very careful decisions in regard to turbine setback requirements and noise limitations. Otherwise, she said, the state will be trading one unhealthy means of energy generation for another if those living near turbines experience health and financial harm.
Others who spoke during Monday’s hearing were skeptical as to how much the state will consider their concerns.
“I’m not sure this meeting will do much good — it seems the decision already is made,” said Kim Camp, of Harbor Beach, as she questioned how impartial the MPSC will be in light of the fact that it is the state’s goal to encourage/facilitate large-scale wind development in Michigan.
The hearing’s purpose
Monday’s hearing was held by the MPSC to receive public comments on the effect of wind turbine setback requirements and noise limitations on wind energy development.
Administrative Law Judge Mark E. Cummins, who moderated Monday’s hearing, explained the hearing was held pursuant to Public Act 295 of 2008, also known as the Clean, Renewable and Efficient Energy Act, which requires the MPSC to submit a report to the Michigan Legislature on the effect that setback requirements and noise limitations under local zoning or other ordinances may have on wind energy development in wind energy resource zones.
It was noted the MPSC is an agency within the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. Decisions are made by a three-member board, comprised of unelected members that are appointed by the governor. All three of the current board members have been appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
The three members were not present at the public hearing, which was held in Lansing, nor were they at two satellite locations, one in Bad Axe and the other in Traverse City. Cummins said MPSC staff members who were in Lansing, Bad Axe and Traverse City all were there to facilitate gathering information in the form of public comments — either spoken or written — which will be compiled and then forwarded to the MPSC board for review.
Included in that information will be a transcript of Monday’s public hearing, which Cummins said is expected to be prepared by Dec. 11, and published on the MPSC’s website, www.michigan.gov/mpsc, shortly thereafter.
Those who still wish to submit a written comment have until 5 p.m. Dec. 11 to do so.
Written comments should be sent to: Executive Secretary, Michigan Public Service Commission, P.O. Box 30221, Lansing, MI 48909. Electronic comments can be e-mailed to email@example.com.
All comments should reference Case No. U-15899. The MPSC notes all information submitted to the commission in this matter will become public information, available on the Commission’s Web site, and subject to disclosure.