The beauty and integrity of our unique area is being threatened
What you need to know about the proposed industrial wind power project and how you might choose to help
Dear Fellow Citizens, Residents, Property Owners, and Friends of Manistee and Benzie Counties,
The pristine and serene landscape throughout Manistee and Benzie Counties – and the communities and economy that sustains them are in danger. This year we have what might be our one chance to save them. Maybe you have seen the yellow signs that read, “Stop the Turbines”. This letter is about what is going on, and what you might choose to do to help protect the place we care about.
In February 2010, Duke Energy, a large North Carolina-based utility, began secret negotiations with groups of landowners in Arcadia, Blaine, Pleasanton, and Joyfield townships in Benzie and Manistee counties to lease 20,000 acres of land in order to build an industrial wind generation facility that would contain 112 industrial wind turbines – each at least 500 feet tall. A turbine on a 300-foot ridge, 800 feet above the lake would be visible from 37 miles away. We know that other energy companies are also circulating wind energy leases in our region.
We believe that Duke’s objective is to make the project seem inevitable, and then use the political process in order to allow these turbines to be built where they should not be – as close as 1000 feet from homes, in environmentally sensitive areas, and within three miles of the Lake Michigan shoreline, contrary to the guidelines of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Duke Energy has employed former County Commissioners from Benzie and Manistee Counties. Duke even paid the attorney who represented the landowners in their “negotiations” with Duke that led to the leases that are being signed in both counties. (Full copies of the leases are available at http://www.arcadiawindstudygroup.org.)
Three of the five members of the Joyfield Township Board (the only township where there is no local zoning to regulate such a development), as well as the Chairman of the Benzie County Board of Commissioners (who represents Blaine and Joyfield) have signed the project lease – which contractually obligates them to do whatever is necessary to secure permits for the project, as well as to keep any of the wind developer’s “proprietary information” secret.
Concerned by these developments, citizens began meeting in the winter of 2010-2011 to understand what was going on and to begin looking at the implications of this project for our environment, our communities, and our local economy. In addition to our group, the Arcadia Wind Study Group (AWSG), these included Citizens for Responsible Wind Development (Blaine Township) and the Joyfield Property Owners Association. After three months of research and careful consideration, AWSG concluded it needed to oppose Duke’s “Gail Windpower” project and any other industrial wind power project in our region.
Industrial wind turbines may have a place, but they do not belong here. They do not belong in rural-residential areas where people live. They do not belong in environmentally sensitive areas, or within three miles of Lake Michigan, land protected by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, or critical wetlands such as Bear Lake or the Arcadia Marsh. In order to protect people from noise and shadow flicker, these turbines should be a minimum of 1.25 miles from the property lines and residences of non-participating landowners. We should think long and hard before allowing towers higher than 199 feet that would require FAA-mandated lighting to flash in the night’s sky.
Duke has constructed a project of similar size and scope in Wyoming called the “Top of the World” project. Yet pictures of this project reveal one big difference. There are no homes between the turbines.
Our effort is a regional effort. If industrial wind development is able to gain a foothold in one township, we believe industrial wind developers will threaten lawsuits and otherwise use their economic power in order to force their way into other communities. Once the transmission infrastructure to support industrial wind turbines is in place in the region, the Michigan Wind Energy Resource Zones Board has indicated that the region between Manistee and the Leelanau Peninsula is slated to “accommodate” over 700 wind turbines. The publicity material distributed by Duke Energy asks us to model our future on Nolan County, Texas, which as of 2009, packed 14 Gail Wind Power Projects – over 1,600 turbines and 3,000 MW of generation capacity – into the same land area as our two counties. And guess where the highest wind energy potential in our area is? The hills surrounding Crystal Lake. We know that duke has approached landowners on the ridges of Benzonia Township with requests to sign leases.
Like you might have, many of us thought that wind energy was “green” and “renewable.” However, only when one of these monstrous projects is potentially going to be placed in your community do you look into the details. Here is what we have found. The problem is the current electric grid is not designed to accept energy from a variable source such as industrial wind turbines. As a result, when the wind is blowing, its energy is often not needed and burned off. The wind blows strongest during the night when demand on the power grid is the lowest. Additional natural gas power plants must be brought online in order to provide energy when the wind is not blowing, and the cycling of these plants causes them to emit more greenhouse gases than otherwise.
In Scandinavia, which is several decades ahead of the U.S. in experience, when turbines are spinning in Denmark, hydropower is turned off in northern Sweden. The result is that wind energy simply displaces another form of “clean” energy, and not carbon-emitting fuels such as coal and oil. Electricity generated from turbines will not reduce our use of oil for transportation.
The major incentive for these projects is the lucrative regime of taxpayer-funded subsides that have been created for industrial wind power, and without which these projects would not happen at all. For every $1 million invested in industrial wind power, utilities receive a $300,000 refundable tax credit up front. Additional incentives make these projects beneficial to the balance sheets of large utilities. After 5 years or so, these projects are designed to be sold to a new owner who is able to benefit from a new set of subsidies, as the case with several of Duke’s own projects. When the projects are no longer viable, a developer will transfer ownership of the turbines to a shell entity that can default on its obligations to remove the turbines at the end of their lives, or selectively terminate leases and stop paying landowners owning parcels without turbines – leading to turbines littering the landscape.
We believe that the massive damage to the local economy caused by the project will quickly outweigh the benefits of the dozen or so permanent jobs that Duke claims its project will create, as well as the revenues that lease signers have been promised over the 30-year life of the project.
If you want to learn more or help, you caneducate yourself about the industrial wind power by going to our website http://www.arcadiawindstudygroup.org, or attending a screening of the movie Windfall this summer. Consider signing up online or filling out a paper response card to receive more information, or to get involved in the effort. IF YOU ARE REVIEWING A WIND COMPANY’S LEASE, PLEASE CONSULT AN ATTORNEY AND CAREFULLY CONSIDER THE RIGHTS THAT YOU ARE BEING ASKED TO SIGN AWAY FOR 30 YEARS.
Our communities are at a crossroads. We are working to inform members of our community about the critical choices presented by industrial wind power. Contrary to what wind developers would have you believe, this massive project is not inevitable. Our townships do not have an obligation to permit so many wind turbines to mar our beautiful landscape. A few property owners cannot take from their neighbors. The law and the people are on our side. This fight is too important to lose. We will not get a second chance, and failure is not an option. Thank you for your consideration.