Wind farm foes dispute economic benefits of project

Joshua Vissers/Daily Mining Gazette Friends of the Huron Mountains (FOHM) spokesman Wayne Abba points to the rough location of his home, off Sicotte Road, on the view map FOHM had created and will be displaying at future public meetings. Bright orange areas are where the proposed wind turbines will be visible, the darker orange area is where tree cover will likely hide the view of the turbines.

The Friends of the Huron Mountains (FOHM) group opposing the Summit Lake Wind Project in L’Anse Township disputes the employment figures the project would bring to the area.

According to the Watertown Daily Times, the union workers in Copenhagen, New York, were passed over for the work constructing the wind farm there in 2018.

Construction of the farm was contracted to Renewal Energy Systems (RES), the developer of the proposed project in L’Anse Township. The RES project manager said deciding to go with out-of-state workers was “strictly a monetary thing,” according to the article.

In 2018, the Local 49 Operating Engineers union in Minnesota began rallying against RES to ensure their employment constructing a 150-megawatt wind farm there, according to their website, local49.org. They managed to get a halt on the project for further discussion.

“These things happen all over the country,” FOHM spokesman Wayne Abba said.

Beyond tourism and jobs, FOHM is also concerned about property values, not only for those near the turbines, but for people around Baraga County and even parts of Houghton County where the turbines would be visible.

Nanos Clarkson Research Collaboration energy consultant team was contracted by the town of Henderson, New York to conduct a study about the impact on property values if the 29 wind turbines proposed to be built on nearby private property are part of the view. The study found being able to view turbines from a property could decrease the value of that land by up to 15 percent.

To help people figure out if their property, or favorite fishing spot, might be impacted, FOHM contracted with Michigan Technological University to create a viewscape map. They got location and height data on the turbines from the RES permit applications to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). They said it took 24 hours for the calculations to be run for each turbine site and alternate sites designated by RES. The map shows where the nacelle, or axis, of a turbine would be visible to someone about six feet tall. It has separate colors for areas where a turbine would be visible regularly, and where the turbines would only be visible if tree cover were cleared.

“This is as objective as we can make it,” Abba said.

The map covers a 25-mile radius around the project. FOHM plans to unveil the map at coming public meetings, and a digital version that includes a virtual reality option on their website, savethehuronmountains.org.

“We didn’t need to bring any passion to this. It was already there,” Mason said.

He asserts FOHM simply brought organization to a grassroots movement already underway, and that even if RES and Weyerhaeuser decide to abandon the project for good, FOHM has other things to work on.

“We want to help them generate revenue, one thing is tourism,” Mason said.

One way FOHM has been working toward that goal is discussions with U.S. Fish and Wildlife to help take care of the National Wildlife Refuge on the Huron Islands.

“When the turbines go away, we aren’t,” Abba said.

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