BURNSIDE TWP. — Officials at DTE Energy claim proposed amendments to Burnside Township’s wind ordinance “indicate a bias against wind energy development,” and are restrictive enough to exclude the 499- foot industrial machines “entirely from the township.”
That’s according to a four page letter faxed to township officials on Monday, Nov. 6, by Michael Sage, program manager, renewable energy development, DTE.
The letter obtained by The County Press expresses various concerns with proposed updates to the township’s wind ordinance.
It is time-stamped at 12:45 p.m., mere hours before the Burnside Township planning commission held a second public hearing on the proposed amendments to its existing wind ordinance in front of about 60 people who crammed into the township hall for a meeting that lasted 2.5 hours.
Despite the DTE letter — and numerous concerns expressed by those for and against wind development in Burnside Township — the planning commission approved a motion to recommend the township board adopt the updated ordinance.
The township board next meets Monday, Nov. 27, at 7 p.m..
“Our analysis of the changes — particularly the setback requirements — indicates that these requirements will result in wind energy development being excluded entirely from many township sections and quite possibly the entire township,” Sage wrote to township officials. (The entire letter can be read with this story online at thecountypress.mihomepaper.com/.)
The section of the Burnside Township zoning ordinance pertaining to wind is proposed to be 11 pages long. Timothy W. Denney, the township’s attorney with Lapeer-based Rickard, Denney, Garno & Associates, has said township officials have been working on it for “several months.”
Proposed amendments include:
• Site plans must be prepared by a professional engineer licensed in the state of Michigan.
Copies of all leases for the project shall be provided to the township.
• The distance between a “utility grid wind energy system” — aka a wind turbine — and the property lines of adjacent non-leased properties including public rights of way shall be at least 1,640 feet, or 125 percent “of the height of the (wind turbine) including the top of the blade in its vertical position, whichever is greater.”
• Each wind turbine shall be set back from “the nearest wall of an inhabited structure” by a distance of no less than 1,640 feet, or 125 percent “of the height of the (wind turbine) including the top of the blade in its vertical position, whichever is greater.”
• The sound pressure level generated by a wind turbine “shall not exceed 45 decibels measured at the property lines between leased and non-leased property.” This was lowered from 55 decibels. (Also, the commission struck the line that stated the “sound pressure level shall not be exceed for more than three minutes a day.”)
• Sound levels will be measured via the so-called “Leq method.” Essentially, Leq is an average sound level. In the case of Burnside Township’s proposed ordinance, Leq “shall be measured using a 10-minuted interval Leq sound metric.” It’s often suggested that Lmax be used to measure wind turbine sound. Those in favor of using Lmax argue it is more absolute in setting a maximum level of sound for a specific timeframe.
• The company that wants to build the wind energy project” shall have a third party, approved by the township or the township’s engineer,” conductan analysis to identify and assess potential impact of the environment. The ordinance lists examples: wetlands and other “fragile ecosystems, historical and cultural sistes, and antiquities.” This was in the ordinance previously, but the commission added the section about the township approving the third party.
• The wind company must pay for repairs to public roads, drains and infrastructure damaged by construction of the wind turbine project. In Tuscola County, construction of at least one wind energy project caused extensive damage to drainage tiles in farm fields.
• The company must provide an analysis of “all areas where shadow flicker may affect the occupants of the inhabited structures and describe measures that shall be taken to eliminate or mitigate the problems.” Further, the updated ordinance says “any shadow flicker complaint shall be addressed by the applicant and be mitigated.”
• The company must give the township a year’s notice of when wind turbines will be decommissioned. The application for special land use must included a description of the financial security that will guarantee removel of the tower.
The County Press was the first to report on Oct. 8 that property owners in northeast Lapeer County recently have signed 20 agreements with DTE Energy that are specific to “wind energy development.”
In response, a company spokesperson confirmed DTE is in “the very early stages of talking to area landowners about a possible project at some point five to 10 years from now.”
The 20 DTE “wind energy development” easement agreements recorded by the Lapeer County Register of Deeds were signed between June 26 and Sept. 26, and encompass a total of 60 parcels in Burlington, Burnside and North Branch townships.
The majority of the 40-year agreements (with an option for an additional 20 years) are for land generally between the villages of Clifford and North Branch, though some are east and southeast of the village of North Branch.
Burnside is the closest to having an up-to-date ordinance regarding wind energy developments, with officials in Burlington and North Branch townships in the early stages.
Denney said the recommended amendments would update the township’s wind ordinance that was initially enacted in 2011 as part of an overall update of township ordinances. A first public hearing was held Sept. 20.
Denney told The County Press that in 27 years of representing municipalities in Lapeer County, this was the first instance he’s been involved in where a planning commission held two public hearings on the same ordinance.
“I think everybody got a fair hearing,” Denney said. “They literally went page by page through the ordinance and said ‘Do you want to change it? Do you want to change it?’”
It’s unclear why DTE waited until the day of the second planning commission meeting to submit its letter to the township expressing its concerns.
Two pages of Sage’s correspondence took township officials to task on a myriad of issues, asking 17 questions and making statements such as, “The required content of an environmental impact study is vague and not adequately defined.”
Sage said, “We are concerned that this effort to amend the zoning ordinance is being under taken without a careful planning study that includes a review of peer-reviewed scientific research on the impact of wind parks on adjacent landowners and local communities,” he wrote. “The existing ordinance was drafted in reference to the Michigan Siting Guidelines for Wind Energy Systems. The proposed ordinance now disregards those guidelines for no apparent reason.”
The Michigan Siting Guidelines for Wind Energy Systems were released in December 2005, and updated in 2007.
“While the existing ordinance was patterned on the Michigan Siting Guidelines for Wind Energy, the proposed amendments depart from the Guidelines. What scientific or economic studies are being relied upon in substitution of the Siting Guidelines?” Sage wrote in one part of his letter to the township.
Sage concludes DTE’s letter by stating, “We are concerned that the proposed amendments indicate a bias against wind energy development in the township.”
“If that is not the case, then why do the proposed wind power amendments subject utility-grid wind energy generation to more restrictive zoning requirements than communication towers, asphalt batching plants, and fireworks storage — all of which pose special siting considerations?” Sage wrote.
Sage called for setbacks be “equal to 1.5 times the height of the turbine as measured from the base of the turbine to the top of the blade in its vertical position, as recommended by the Michigan Siting Guidelines for Energy Systems.” The company also suggested higher sound levels and that required studies “be prepared by consultants selected by the applicant…”
Denney said that he doesn’t believe Monday’s planning commission recommendation was a situation “where they had it drafted a certain way, and these late comments were somehow ignored because they came in late.”
“I don’t think that was the case at all,” Denney said. “They took them all into consideration and debated it pretty thoroughly and now we get to do it all over again at the township board level.”