'Galien Oaks' projected to consist of 30 to 35 600-foot tall wind turbines
GALIEN — A new multi-million dollar wind farm project with 600-foot-high wind turbines could be coming to southern Berrien County.
Nearly three dozen landowners met Wednesday, July 27, with representatives of the Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy Company to learn more about the project.
Company representatives have been meeting individually with landowners in Weesaw and nearby townships (reportedly Galien, Three Oaks, Baroda and Lake) since late last year to gauge support for their plans. Their primary area of interest has been Weesaw Township where there is a zoning ordinance in place prohibiting commercial wind farms.
The focus is on open areas near transmission lines that are at least three miles from the Lake Michigan shoreline due to U.S. Fish & Wildlife regulations.
Wednesday’s meeting was held at the Galien American Legion Post. Apex representatives gave an overview of what the project could look like, the timetable for development and the compensation landowners can expect to see. If successful, the project called "Galien Oaks" would be the first of its kind in Berrien County.
Apex representatives said they plan to soon start signing up landowners and then go to Weesaw Township to seek changes to the ordinance once they have 75 percent of the landowners they want. They’re looking at getting an area covering 10,000 acres where they can place 30 to 35 turbines.
After questions from Weesaw Township Trustee Gary Sommers about what they were going to do about the existing township ordinance, company representatives said they weren’t trying "to go around the township" but acknowledged they were going to first gather support from landowners before going to local officials.
"If we have amassed acreage and owners you will have reason to consider it," development manager David Guillory said. "Right now, you have no incentive to do it."
Actual construction of wind turbines would still be years away even if the township gives their approval to the project. Project development director Brad Lila said the company will be signing pre-production lease agreements with landowners that last up to six years.
During that time, the company would take two years to develop a site plan, test the winds, put up 200 feet high meteorological towers and also study the wind turbines’ effect on birds, bats and endangered species. Actual construction of the $3 million turbines would take about one year.
"We don’t want to minimize the impact (of the turbines) but we see it as worth it with long-term benefits to individuals and the township that more than make up for any negatives," land agent Ryan Dykstra said.
Negatives mentioned Wednesday as well as in articles about other wind turbine projects around the country include noise, lights and lowering of property values. Dykstra and Lila claimed that noise levels will not exceed 55 decibals at the closest non-participating property line.
The turbines will be 600 feet tall at the highest point of the blade with the lowest point 150 feet off the ground. Each turbine will take up between a half acre and one acre in space. Once decommissioned, the turbine would be gone but 12 to 18 feet of concrete would remain below the ground.
The company’s main arguments centered around energy and economics. Energy-wise, representatives said that wind energy is becoming cheaper to produce at the same time it’s getting to be more popular. They added that the environmental benefits include no carbon emissions, no water consumption and minimal maintenance.
As for economics, they said their company compensates landowners as well or better than any other wind company in the country. Landowners within the wind farm district are paid during the development period and then at a higher rate during the estimated 25 years of production. People with turbines constructed on their land would typically get up to $13,000 a year and those near a turbine would some level of compensation. Damages to livestock and crops as well as drain tiles will be reimbursed as will any property tax increase associated with the placement of the turbines.
Lila said wind farm projects can be "economic development tools" that help landowners as well as local and state governments. "It’s a hedge on commodity prices, that’s why Michigan got behind it," he said. "It’s a safety blanket for property owners, it keeps agricultural land in agriculture and brings in manufacturing jobs."