Activist: Rural townships 'are being sacrificed' but 30 have pushed back
Residents in some rural communities are concerned that a deal in the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature to increase renewable energy mandates on utilities will result in their homes being surrounded by 500-foot-tall industrial wind turbines. The deal is the result of lawmakers trying to satisfy three special interests that have competing goals as they rewrite the state utility regulation law.
Senate Bill 437, introduced by Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, would amend a current law that allows non-monopoly electricity generation firms to compete for up to 10 percent of Michigan’s commercial and industrial electric power market. Customers of these generators believe the bill would end the electric choice program. The state’s big utilities, DTE and Consumers Energy, want to get back the complete monopolies they enjoyed in their service areas before a 2000 law opened the market to competition.
Republican legislators are divided on ending electric choice, which is strongly favored by the businesses that benefit from its lower prices. But the legislative proponents do not have enough votes in their own caucus to protect market choice. So they have offered to make a deal with Democratic legislators, who mostly side with environmentalist and wind-industry interests that want to increase the number of wind turbines. Current law mandates that electric utilities get at least 10 percent of their power from renewable sources, including windmills. The proposed deal would increase this requirement to 15 percent by 2020, and 35 percent by 2030.
But grass roots organizers and citizens in the communities most likely to be targeted for new industrial wind farms fear the prospect of hundreds of new turbines and towers spreading across their landscapes.
Kevon Martis, the founder of Interstate Informed Citizen’s Coalition (IICC), has helped more than 30 rural communities in Michigan successfully oppose the building of wind energy plants and turbines in their communities. He said in an email, "Michigan's rural townships are being sacrificed on the altar of retail choice.”
Martis estimates the expanded mandate would mean around 1,000 turbines costing nearly $4 billion would be built in the state. “Since wind turbines only last 20 years, this massive expense must be repeated every twenty years ad nauseum,” he added.
Leo Sonck is the supervisor-elect for Bridgehampton Township and current chairman of its planning committee. He has been dealing with wind turbine lease contracts in his municipality and says safety is a major concern.
“The state legislators appear to be thinking of making yet another increase to their ignorant mandate for so-called green energy,” he said.
“Let's focus on safety, health, welfare and property rights, then if they can be done safely and fair to all, fine, move forward,” Sonck added. “Currently, our planning commission is waiting for answers to safety questions, which to date after multiple requests have not been answered,” he said.
Some residents of the targeted communities including Norm Stephens, an Almer Township homeowner and retired teacher, have questioned the motives of local politicians and wind promoters.
“Conflict of interest issues have been a major source of conflict in our community concerning the installation of wind developments that protect the health, safety, and welfare of citizens,” he said. “Most of the members of our group are not anti-wind. We are anti-weak wind ordinance.”
In the view of Bob McLean, vice chairman of the Paris Township Planning Commission and a longtime Huron County resident, his community has already lost to wind development.
“Huron County now has more turbines than rest of the state combined,” McLean said. “When I look out my window I no longer see the quiet peaceful landscape I used to enjoy. Our entire county has been turned into a 50 story tall blinking pinwheel forest. It no longer looks like home.”
According to news reports, even without the proposed deal in the Legislature, Huron County is expected to have more than 300 next year.
The companies that benefit from the current electric choice provisions are also concerned.
“Senate Bill 437 kills electric choice, and it will devastate Michigan schools, job providers, and ratepayers,” said Wayne Kuipers, a former legislator who is now the executive director of Energy Choice Now, which represents these companies.
“DTE and Consumers Energy spent $7.4 million last year, and likely millions more in 2016 pressuring the Senate to strip away $23.5 million a year in savings out of Michigan classrooms and sending them to a big corporate board room,” Kuipers said.
He points to a poll by the Marketing Research Group which found that 62 percent of respondents oppose restricting electric choice and giving the state’s two big utilities a complete monopoly on the electricity market.