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Economy

Michigan's largest windfarm coming to Isabella County

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WCMU Photographer Xavier Mendoza
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  Michigan’s largest wind farm is coming to Isabella County - the project will power thousands of homes and bring millions in tax revenue to local communities. Steve Keene spoke with the developer of the project...and with its critics.

 

 

Rosebush, just north of Mt. Pleasant, is a small town surrounded by soybean and corn fields. In a nearby house-turned-office is the Michigan office of Apex Clean Energy. That’s the developer behind the multimillion dollar wind farm.

“Wind energy is a drought-resistant crop for the farmers.”

Albert Jongewaard is the Senior Manager for Public Engagement with Apex. He says Isabella Wind will produce nearly twice the amount of power as the current largest wind farm in Michigan - enough to power one hundred and thirty thousand American homes. He said it’ll be an economic boom to the region.

“We will have to do roadwork, there’s no question about that - so we’ll be improving local roads. We will be improving the local electrical grid infrastructure - that means less blackouts, that means more access to reliable power. It also means it’s a huge tool for economic development and recruitment. So as Isabella County, Gratiot County, Clare County, and the surrounding area looks to recruit industry and business, whether that means manufacturing or anyone else, that’s a huge draw for those types of businesses looking to relocate somewhere.”

For years, Michigan’s Thumb has been focus of wind energy in the state. But with the completion of large-scale wind projects in Isabella and Gratiot Counties, the winds seem to be shifting to mid-Michigan - and Isabella Wind  may embody that change. But not everyone is happy with the project.

“I don’t think it’s really at all about not just liking the way they look.”

LouAnn Mogg is a member of Isabella Wind Watch. The group was organized as a watchdog organization against Isabella Wind. It has grown as a forum for mid-Michigan residents to voice concerns about the growing number of wind projects in their backyards.

“The people who sign the wind leases - they want to be able to do what they want to do on their own property, so in this case they want to be able to sign up and have a wind turbine put on their property. We’re not opposed to them doing that. It’s their property. But if them getting a turbine on their property means that I’m gonna have to deal with the shadow flicker on my house, excess noise, threat of ice throw or a blade running wild - if I’m right across the road and I’m gonna have to deal with that as a result of them signing a lease, now they’re infringing on my property rights.”

Shadow flickering is an effect caused when a wind turbine’s blades pass in front of the sun - it creates an on-and-off shadow on the landscape. Online videos show other disastrous effects caused by some turbines .. things like built-up ice being flung off spinning blades or blades breaking off from the turbine itself and crashing into the ground.

Jongewaard acknowledged shadow flickering and noise effects from turbines, but he says Apex would strictly follow Isabella County ordinances pertaining to both. He saidsetbacks will limit the turbines’ effects on the nearby environment.

“There’s a setback from all the roads. And so, alright, so we’re gonna knock in a setback from the roads. And if there are any houses in the section, well, we have a setback from the houses - in Isabella County it’s 1,250 feet, or something like that. There’s a setback from non-participating property lines, so if your neighbor doesn’t sign a lease but you do, well, we have a setback from your neighbor’s property line, so that means that there’s a good chunk of ground out of your property that we can’t build on..”

In all, Jongewaard said a developer is required to follow nearly two-dozen county, state, and federal setbacks - distancing turbines from wetlands, bald eagles’ nests, pipelines, and communication towers.

“We factor all that into consideration and it really kind of helps us at the end of the day, after multiple years of study and analysis, figure out where turbines can go and where they can’t go. So we don’t just pack them in like sardines. They don’t just go into somebody’s backyard - they find themselves in the middle of open fields and generally out of any interference of people's’ daily lives.”

Carolyn Berger is also with Isabella Wind Watch. She said the group isn’t against progress - but she said this project is moving along dangerously fast and without proper input from the public.

“Progress requires careful consideration of all the aspects. And that takes time. And the meetings that I’ve attended at the county level, and at the township level - I have not witnessed careful consideration or deliberation of these issues that are brought up from the public. People listen, but they don’t really speak to the issues.”

On his end, Jongewaard said the developer has been transparent with concerned residents for the nearly-two year wind farm development. He said most of the community is behind the project.

“People in this community have been really supportive of this project moving forward. Most people have questions, but the good thing is that there’s answers to all those questions. And, so, even in a public setting if I’m talking to somebody who doesn’t necessarily like the idea of having renewable energy in the community - again, I think most people are kind of excited about the idea - but even if I’m talking to someone who disagrees, my story doesn’t change. Ya know, I sleep really well at night because I never have to make up a story, never have to tell a lie. The facts are on our side. And there’s answers to everybody’s questions.”

Opponent LouAnn Mogg said the Apex project opens the floodgates for other wind project in the future - regardless of local residents’ concerns.

“This would be the largest wind farm in the state. I believe these will be the tallest turbines in the state. But this won’t be the end of it. After this project is built, it’s just a matter of time before somebody comes through with another phase, more turbines. When do we stop? When is it enough? When do people get to have a voice? They just need to make more time. And really, really, research this. And we’re not trying to be the villains. We just want it done right.”

Apex said it plans to break ground on the Isabella Wind project this summer.