News Story

Isabella County Closer to Allowing 200 or More Wind Turbines

Zoning changes would open door for wind turbines up to 600 feet tall

MOUNT PLEASANT — Members of the Isabella County Planning Commission took another step Thursday toward facilitating the placement of up to 200 industrial wind turbines in rural areas of the county, and potentially more than that.

After more than an hour of public comments for and against proposed zoning changes designed to accommodate the turbines, the commission voted to advance the proposal after amending some details to reflect the comments. The measure must still be approved by the full Isabella County commission.

No wind turbine permit applications are currently pending in Isabella County, but once the revised zoning ordinance is finalized that is likely to change. According to a representative of Apex Clean Energy, which has installed turbine developments throughout the U.S. and Canada, the wind turbine provider has already signed lease agreements with 200 Isabella landowners.

In other Michigan communities targeted for wind development, a property owner who leases land to a developer gets annual payments of around $9,000 to $14,000 for allowing a turbine tower.

Under the proposed ordinance, some rural parts of Isabella would likely join other Michigan regions that already have industrial wind farms, including neighboring Gratiot County, and Huron County in the Thumb region. In 2016, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a law that mandates utilities here get 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2021, and in Michigan that mostly means industrial wind turbines.

An Apex spokesman touted the increased tax revenue the county would collect due to wind turbines. Richard Los, a resident of Isabella’s Wise Township, said that even though wind turbines might be inconvenient for some, they are necessary to save the planet.

The meeting was also attended by Kevon Martis, an activist working to halt the expansion of wind turbine developments in Michigan. Martis argued that the proposed ordinance is inadequate to protect residents because it would allow turbines to operate too close to neighbors’ property. Also, that the maximum noise levels the measure would allow from spinning turbine blades is too high and unsafe.

Others present at the meeting commented about the unsightliness of a 500-foot wind turbine, whirring in the midst of a rural landscape.

The county’s revised regulations would allow the wind turbines to be up to 600 feet tall – equivalent to the height of a 60-story skyscraper – and be setback only 600 feet from the property line of landowners who aren’t leasing their land for turbines.

The regulations would also allow the turbines to produce up to 55 decibels of noise – including during the night. This is eight times higher than the ambient night-time noise level of a rural area, and it also does not account for the impact of low frequency noise emitted by the spinning blades.

According to Isabella County Community Development Director Tim Nieporte, under the Michigan Zoning and Enabling Act, a wind turbine must be allowed somewhere in the county because it is what the law calls a “viable use.”

The ordinance also addresses other of wind turbines such as “shadow flicker” and the costly decommissioning work. Shadow flicker occurs when a tall wind turbine is between the sun and a person’s house, causing the light coming through the house’s windows to strobe in and out, as the turbine blades block sunlight

Some at the meeting, like Bob Walton of Rosebush, praised the planning commission for its work on the revised zoning ordinances. Walton believes allowing landowners in the rural parts of Isabella County to lease land to build wind turbines is a matter of property rights.

“I have no problem with someone being against them,” he said, “but don’t tell me I can’t have some property rights.”

According to Martis, Isabella County’s zoning regulations are some of the most permissive in the state.

“[Isabella County is] the stupidest place to place a wind farm,” Martis said. “It’s bad economics, bad for ratepayers, bad for the environment, bad for the social fiber of the community.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.