UNIVERSITY CENTER — Huron County, located in Michigan’s thumb, has become ground zero in the debate over the state’s renewable energy mandates.
Residents showed up en masse recently at the Michigan Energy Public Forum at Delta College to air their views both for and against wind energy.
The college’s Lecture Theater was nearly filled with speakers and guests for the “Readying Michigan to Make Good Energy Decisions” roundtable on Monday, March 4. The public forum was the third of four scheduled across Michigan in the wake of Gov. Rick Snyder’s delivering his “Ensuring Our Future: Energy and the Environment” message this past November.
In his message, Gov. Snyder announced he would convene a series of public meetings in which information would be gathered related to the state’s projected energy and environmental needs beyond 2015. Currently, Michigan’s Public Act 295 requires the state’s utility providers derive at least 10 percent of the energy they provide from renewable resources such as wind and solar by 2015. The meetings are co-chaired by John Quackenbush, chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission, and Steven Bakkal, director of the Michigan Energy Office.
Members of the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition Inc., a group opposed to expanding the state’s renewable mandate, were prominent both outside the theater and as speakers during the public statements segment. Members of the group wore bright green shirts, and handed out DVDs and fliers stating their position.
Robert McLean, a self-employed farmer, technician and IICCI member, said outside the lecture-hall that his property values have plummeted as a result of wind turbines placed near land he owns in both Huron and Sanilac counties. “I certainly won’t be reinvesting in this area,” he said.
McLean said the turbines have created noise far above the 50 decibels limit established by Bingham Township guidelines. Noise levels of the Huron County indeed were measured and determined to exceed the 50 dB limit, but Mr. McLean said no follow-up measurements were conducted to ensure the wind turbines were compliant.
Speakers at the Delta College forum included Teresa Ringenbach, senior manager, government and regulatory affairs, Direct Energy; Whitney Skeins, co-chair, Michigan Saves; Tom O’Brady, Public Sector Consultants; Aaron Howald, chief financial officer, Hemlock Semiconductor; Susan Harley, Michigan policy director, Clean Water Action; Tiffany Hartung, chapter program manager, Sierra Club; Monica Martinez, energy consultant, America’s Natural Gas Alliance; and Ronn Rasmussen, vice president of rates and regulation, Consumers Energy.
Among the topics addressed by the speakers were continuing energy efficiency and assistance programs for lower income households, light flicker from turbine blades, hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, and climate change. Also addressed were industrial and retail rates for consumers.
“Dirty coal plants provide 60 percent of Michigan’s electricity and account for $1.5 billion in increased health-care costs each year," Harley said, adding that 678 Michigan residents die each year due to coal-fired energy plants.
“Michigan and the United States need to develop their own energy policy,” said Eric Martis, a Huron County resident opposed to commercial wind-generated electricity, in his prepared remarks for the forum. “Following the lead of European countries like Germany is just plain wrong.
"For the first time in 25 years, despite all their wind energy, Germany’s CO2 emissions actually increased," Martis said. "That is because their move towards intermittent renewables, while shutting down nuclear plants, forced Germany toward coal to fulfill their base-load energy needs."
Clay Kelterborn, an IICCI member and Huron County farmer, cited his dedication to environmental conservation for his opposition to wind turbines. "We need to conserve our property," he said.
"That means taking care of the air, land and water on our property," Kelterborn said. "They may be sold as environmentally friendly, but [wind turbines] have a very heavy carbon footprint,” he said, citing the need for several semi-trucks for the shipping of a single turbine and the blades from the factory to the wind farms where they’re erected.
Following the public participation component of Gov. Snyder’s energy initiative, compilation of information will continue throughout the summer. Draft reports for public feedback are scheduled for release in October-November and finalized reports will be released in November-December 2013.