County commission hears complaints about wind turbine park

March 12, 2013

By Lisa Enos

MCP Correspondent

LUDINGTON – The Mason County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday with a full agenda and to hear from guest speakers — some of whom were on the agenda and others who were not. County board meetings start and finish with public comment which allowed Evelyn Bergaila of Riverton Township to have the first and last word.

The subject of her public commentary? Wind turbines, of course.

Bergaila has been very vocal in her protestation of the Lake Winds Energy Park — the 56 476-foot-tall wind turbines placed in Summit and Riverton townships by Consumers Energy last summer. Bergaila expressed dismay at how the project is being portrayed in hindsight and accused some Mason County representatives who spoke at a conference on wind energy in Traverse City of attempting to “rewrite history” of the events which led up to the establishment of the wind farm.

Bergaila maintains that the placement of the turbines in Riverton and Summit townships was a county mandate, not a choice of the constituents of the townships, noting contracts signed between Consumers Energy and Vesta, the turbine manufacturer, which predated the sharing of the site plan with the residents would would be impacted most as just one of many examples which support her view.consumer

Aldon Maleckas of Custer also spoke on the subject of turbines. He said Consumers Energy is paying the Midwest Independent Transmission Systems Operator (MISO) to put the energy generated by the turbines onto the grid,  and that the energy wasn’t needed in the first place.

MISO exists to provide an independent platform for efficient regional energy markets and is in charge of wholesale electric competition in the region, and the information is available on their website.

“They look at all the power that’s being supplied and what’s needed and they match them up,” Maleckas said. “According to the MISO website, enough energy was being produced for our region,” he said. “Why are we supporting wind turbine projects when we don’t need the energy?”

One main reason is likely the “Renewable Portfolio Standard,” which became law during the Granholm administration. It requires that 10 percent of Michigan’s energy come from renewable sources by 2015 and 25 percent by 2025. Certain criteria needed to be met and moved swiftly upon in order for Consumer’s to satisfy the demands placed upon the industry by the State of Michigan in order to be able to take advantage of incentives which would offset the cost of the project.

Under the federal guidelines wind project developers could either choose to receive a 30 percent Investment Tax Credit in place of Production Tax Credit for facilities placed in service in 2009 and 2010, and also for facilities placed in service before 2013 if construction were to begin before the end of 2010. The production tax credit provides for a 2.2-cent per kilowatt-hour (kWh) benefit for the first ten years of a renewable energy facility’s operation.

According to Maleckas, Consumer’s Energy has received a production tax credit somewhere between $6.8 Million and  $7.7 million.

“It would have been in your best interest to make sure any one who is affected (by the wind farm project) is compensated,” Maleckas told the county board. “The money is there, and you could have done it,” he said.

Concerns of people living near the turbines have ranged from fears that shadow flicker may trigger seizures to worries about noise emissions. “Setbacks” — the distance between a dwelling and the base of a turbine — were deemed unsafe by some residents who noted that if the turbine became a hazard their house would be inside the area to be partitioned off while waiting for the problem to be fixed.

Consumer’s Energy and Mason County chose to go ahead with the project despite objections. Citizens who are affected by the turbines have since been directed to lodge complaints with the Mason County Zoning Board.

To that end, the county board voted Tuesday to hire HGC Engineering to conduct a post construction sound survey for Lake Winds Energy Park. HGC Engineering was the only firm that submitting a bid that is willing to set up sound monitoring equipment in the homes of affected residents. The survey will be paid for by Consumer’s Energy.

District 5 Commissioner Mary Nichols of Riverton Township abstained from voting on the resolution to hire the firm because she had personal interest in the outcome of the decision. “My husband and I both have formal complaints into the county so I will abstain,” said Nichols, who noted that her complaint had to do with wind turbine noise.

“I think Mason County has given enough of its land, its landscape and beauty over to Consumer’s (Energy), it’s time for other parts of the state (to do its share),” Bergalia said.

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