Two of the three ordinances were drafted with the help of the Grand Rapids-based law firm Foster Swift Collins & Smith, whose partner Michael Homier is part of a trio of anti-wind activists working to stop wind projects throughout the state.
- Alleged negative health effects caused by wind turbines
- The need to preserve the townships’ agricultural character
- Turbine height and setback requirements
The new ordinances started in 2016 in Almer Township in Tuscola County, spread to Casnovia Township in Muskegon County in 2019 and then to Pierson Township in Montcalm County in June 2021.
They also resemble one of Michigan’s first zoning ordinances that restricted the development of wind projects in Riga Township in Lenawee County, home to Kevon Martis, a longtime associate of attorney Homier. It was adopted nearly a decade ago in April 2011.
Foster Swift has been hired by three other townships — Cato, Pine and Sidney — to work on their ordinances, according to reporting by Elisabeth Waldon of The Daily News in Greenville, Mich.
Each of the ordinances makes the identical claim about potentially adverse secondary effects from wind turbines:
The ordinances cite the potential negative consequences of wind turbines such as falling ice thrown by the blades of turbines, the flickering of shadows from the blades on nearby structures (shadow flicker), sleep disturbance caused by noise, and long-term health consequences of sound, also known as “infrasound.”
A 2018 study by the federal Berkeley Laboratory found that “that only 16% of all residents within 5 miles have ever heard sounds from the turbines and, of those, more than half are not at all annoyed by them.”
Fifty-two percent of those living within a half-mile of a turbine surveyed in the Berkeley study reported having “positive” or “very positive” experiences.
The most prevalent land use in the townships, the ordinances say, is agriculture “and its preservation has been an ongoing goal within the community for many years. This Ordinance is intended to protect the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the Township and to encourage the safe, effective, efficient and orderly development and operation of wind energy resources in the Township while preserving and protecting the character and the stability of residential, agricultural, recreational, commercial and other areas within the Township.”
Multiple studies, however, show that the presence of wind turbines on agricultural land strengthens farms’ finances and enables farmers to improve their land and facilities and establish succession plans for future generations.
“I think in terms of economic need, what farmers told me was that they re-invested the money in their properties,” said University of Michigan researcher Sarah Mills. “They said they were more likely to have a succession plan for their farms. So, there’s a chance the younger generation will stay around to farm.”
Turbine height limits
The maximum “tip height” of each turbine, according to the three ordinances, is 500 feet. Tip height refers to the height of a turbine with a blade at its highest point.
This height limit could exclude many of the turbines in new wind developments, such as those in the recently opened Isabella Wind project in Isabella County. There the turbines’ tip heights range between 500 and 600 feet.
Meanwhile in the Polaris wind farm in Gratiot County, tip heights are slightly less than 500 feet.
Taller turbines with larger blades generate more energy, wind farm developers say.
Turbine tip heights are also used to calculate the distance that turbines must be from roads or neighboring property lines, all three ordinances show.
“The minimum set-back from any property line of a Non-Participating Landowner or any road right-of-way shall be no less than four (4) times Tip Height,” says the Casnovia Township ordinance. That language is repeated in the Almer and Pierson township ordinances.
Setback requirements are devised to limit potential damage caused to roads and adjacent properties caused by ice thrown from turbine blades, falling turbines and related noise.
In Ohio, lobbyists backed by the fossil fuel industry used a setback requirement in a state law to cripple the attempts to develop wind farms in several counties, according to a 2018 Checks and Balances Project report.
Ohio counties that welcomed wind projects also were able to generate far more revenues than neighboring counties that rejected them.
Ray Locker is executive director of Checks and Balances Project, an investigative watchdog blog holding government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.
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