Filer Township gives the process a chance in wind debate

Mother Nature has not been kind over the past couple of years, and there may be nothing natural about it.

Severe drought ravaged crops in the Midwest last summer, while powerful storms wreaked destruction in New York and New Jersey in the fall. Spreading wildfires seared the West throughout the season. Closer to home, water levels just reached a low in the Great Lakes not seen since records began to be kept, and a strangely warm winter last year inflicted huge damage to fruit trees across Michigan and the upper Midwest.

And this is just the United States. We’re not even talking about the damage caused by drought in Africa or rising sea levels in Indonesia.

But is wind energy the answer to the reality of our ever-warming planet?

People who live near wind farms have valid concerns about them — including noise and shadow flicker caused by the blades, damage to bird and bat populations, and the costs of decommissioning and removing a windmill when it is no longer working. A windmill can be as tall as a 20-story building and have blades reaching 200 feet in length. Erecting one — or ten, or a hundred — fundamentally changes the landscape.

Opinion on the aesthetics of windmills ranges from rhapsodic — “they’re like works of modern art,” one person told us — to decidedly the opposite — they are eyesores that could depreciate home values.

Given the high stakes of the wind energy question, a certain measure of caution is necessary. That’s why we feel it was the right decision when the Filer Township Board decided this week to pass a six-month moratorium on wind turbine construction, a move intended to give its planning commission an opportunity to revise Filer’s zoning ordinance on wind energy.

Planning commission member Linda Rogers believes that the township’s current ordinance is weak, a point she made at Tuesday night’s board meeting, calling current ordinance on sound and setbacks “woefully inadequate.”

She also argued that critical issues simply go unaddressed: “Our ordinance is missing huge chunks — regulation of shadow flicker, a robust complaint procedure, a procedure for setting up a reasonable escrow account to ensure funds for decommissioning turbines when they’re no longer in use and for site restoration. The fact that these things are missing leaves us very vulnerable under our existing ordinance.”

In our opinion, taking the time now to address concerns like shadow flicker, noise, complaint procedure, and decommissioning with strong, reasonable regulations would allow Filer to put in place the framework necessary in case a large company — a Duke Energy or Consumers Energy of the world — decides to locate a wind farm in the area in the future.

By strengthening its wind energy zoning ordinance now, the township is making an important move towards better protecting the future health and quality of life of its residents. And, from a larger perspective, we believe that it should be possible to both harness wind power and to address resident concerns over wind farms.

The truth is, we as a nation badly need to kick our fossil-fuel habit. Our reliance on coal and oil pollutes our air and water, increasing global levels of carbon dioxide and warming our world. Wind energy remains a viable alternative — it’s clean, renewable, and produces no air or water pollution.

Additionally, wind power creates jobs. Consumers Energy reports that, at peak construction of its Lake Winds Energy Park in Mason County, the project created 300 temporary jobs. Seven permanent maintenance positions were developed as part of the project.

But we feel that Filer residents still have real, valid concerns about potential wind energy projects that need to be fairly — and transparently — addressed.

The township board and the planning commission must move quickly and comprehensively to strengthen zoning ordinance on wind energy.

They are on their way.

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