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Ionia County grows closer to installing wind turbines

Taylor Owens Staff Writer The Odessa Township Board unanimously passed an ordinance to allow windmills at a distance of 1.25 times their height from a non-participating parcel during a meeting Monday.

The decision followed months of discussion and extensive public input during hearings and from letters.

Leeward Renewable Energy, owned by Canadian company OMERS, is working on a Tupper Lake wind project in Ionia County, across Sebeway, Odessa and Campbell townships.

Sebewa Township does not have any ordinances that prevent windmills from being built, and Campbell Township would only have power lines, not windmills. Bulling said he believes Leeward Renewable Energy will likely bring its ordinance to Sebewa Township, and ask for a similar version of the ordinance to be approved.

The development started in 2009 under TCI Renewables, and the project was purchased by Leeward in 2017. The project would likely construct 50 to 60 wind turbines across the three townships, and around 17,000 acres are currently under contract, with negotiations for more ongoing.

During a public hearing in February, John Wucherley, the senior director of development at Leeward, told attendees the tax revenue for the project is projected to be $15 million over the 30-year life cycle of the wind farm, and would pay out $35 million to the landowners.

The board received input from over 100 people who attended meetings, wrote letters or spoke to board members personally.

The decision on the 15-page ordinance largely came down to a single variable: the minimum distance a windmill could be from a non-participating property.

The ordinance could have either allowed for a minimum distance of 1.25 times or 4 times the height of the windmill. The ordinance also limits the height to no more than 499 feet.

Supervisor Dave Bulling said 4 was a largely arbitrary number, because anything much higher than 1.25 times the height would have been so restrictive it would have effectively prevented a company from building windmills. Bulling noted Leeward Renewable Energy, which has plans to build windmills in the township, was not happy with the 1.25 times the height, and had wanted the number to be lower.

Bulling said he did not know when windmills would be built in the township, or if they ever will be, but said the earliest would be 2020. Leeward Energy, a Toronto-based corporation, is looking at installing up to 30 windmills in Odessa Township, although neither the company nor any residents will say where the windmills might go. Bulling said he's talked to a number of residents who said they're thinking about signing up to have windmills on their property, but they are reluctant to say if they have.

Before the vote was held, nearly 20 residents who attended the meeting had one final opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns on the issue.

Many said they were opposed to the windmills, because they believe they will ruin the natural landscape and are afraid it would drop their property values, disturb underground drainage and more.

“I'm fully against it myself,” resident Chad Jones said. “I think these things are going to be way more intrusive to our view, to our way of life here... If they go in, who's going to want to buy my house?”

Resident Dan Bowers said he believed 4 times the height would not be enough of a restriction.

“We've got line of sight for miles here, you're going to see every single one of them,” Bowers said. He wants to build a residence on the edge of his property and said if someone builds a windmill in an adjacent property first, the residence would be almost underneath the windmill.

“It's a limitation of our use of our property,” Bowers said.

Other residents said they were not necessarily for or against the turbines, but voiced concerns and asked questions about the specifics of the ordinance.

Trustee Von Goodemoot said there is no public consensus on the issue and, whatever the board chose, there would be unhappy people.

“I can tell you this is the single biggest issue I've struggled with personally on this board,” Bulling said, pointing out that Odessa is not a zoned township. Legally, the township did not have to weigh in with regulations on the wind turbines, but Bulling said they chose to because they knew it would be a hot-button issue.

“For me, it comes down to property use and what you can do with the property that you own,” Bulling said. “We don't regulate farms or cell towers... Telling somebody what they can't do with the property they own and pay taxes on, I do struggle with that a lot.”

“I've been working for months trying to balance the rights of property owners,” Treasurer Sharon Rohrbacher said.

Rohrbacher pointed out that wind turbine companies must get a comprehensive permit from the township to cover sound, color, height, location, decommissioning, a limit of three per square mile and more.

The ordinance requires a turbine company to set up an escrow account in case of damages that will be in force for up to two years after construction is completed. The ordinance also requires a financial and environmental impact study to be completed.

“It is full, absolutely full, of requirements for the turbine companies,” Rohrbacher said.

The company will be responsible for decommissioning the turbine, or fixing any underground damage that could be damaged in the process.

Although the township board does not have details on the value of a wind turbine that might be installed in Odessa Township, Bulling said a turbine installed elsewhere can reach upwards of $1 million. The township would receive money from property tax and millages that would apply to the turbines, up to 30 of which are being considered for Odessa Township.

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