Support for Wind: NMU speaker makes case to SAVE project
L’ANSE — The group Services And Vibrant Economy for Baraga, or SAVE, hosted an informational meeting about the now-cancelled Summit Lake Wind Farm on Tuesday evening.
The meeting included presentations from Steve Waller, an adjunct instructor at Northern Michigan University, and Steven Tinti, an attorney from Crystal Falls.
Around 70 people came to the L’Anse school cafetorium for the meeting, which was facilitated by Mike Roberts.
While welcoming attendees, Roberts said SAVE members were “a group of concerned Baraga County residents getting together to try to spur development and to keep things going in Baraga County.”
Questioned after the meeting, he said SAVE had no clearly defined leader and declined to name any other members.
Multiple Baraga County commissioners were in attendance, but there were no representative from the L’Anse Township Board.
Waller gave a lively presentation that included powerpoint slides citing several sources. He teaches classes about wind and solar energy and was a naturalist guide for eight years in Ontario, Canada.
“Some people like turbines. I’m one of them,” he said during his presentation.
Waller has been watching coverage of the issue and said he has wondered where the arguments in favor of the wind turbines are.
“Almost everything I heard was from one side of the conversation,” he said.
He volunteered to come to present the other side of the issue.
“You’re going to have to make the decision from there,” Waller said.
He started by expressing disappointment with the decision by Renewable Energy Systems to stop pursuing the wind farm project.
“L’Anse just lost $25 million,” he said.
However, he pointed out, if the change to the ordinance is approved by voters, another developer may still be interested in building in L’Anse Township.
Waller does not think turbines will spread across Baraga County.
“No they’re not, because nobody else has decent wind except for you guys,” he said.
He points to a map issued by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that shows the northeast portion of L’Anse having the highest wind resource in the county.
He said that is what brought RES to L’Anse Township rather than anywhere else in the county, where wind strength is too weak to adequately power turbines.
Waller also brushed aside opponents claims of noise disturbances and poor public opinion of turbines.
“They’re position seems to be that if you can see a turbine, it’s the end of the world,” he said.
He pointed to a study from Berkeley Lab that found less than half of people living with a half mile of a wind turbine were even slightly annoyed by the change to the landscape, and 75% had either a neutral or positive attitude toward them.
He said the people annoyed by them were clearly the minority.
“It’s typically 10% but they’re really, really loud,” Waller said.
He also said the noise is already restricted by L’Anse zoning ordinances to be no higher than 55 decibels at adjacent property lines. This is about as loud as a refrigerator or air conditioner.
A release from the U.S. Department of Energy he presented also stated “statistical evidence shows that views of and proximity to wind turbines do not have adverse post-construction effects on property values.”
“You won’t see the turbines because the trees are in the way,” Waller said.
Waller said Keweenaw Bay Indian Community’s treaty rights for hunting and gathering would not be impacted because access to the land would be maintained, and that the turbines only get fenced in if necessary to prevent vandalism.
Waller discounted other local environmental concerns by pointing out that the area in question was not a “wilderness,” because of the the logging activity and extensive network of logging roads that already exists.
“It’s a forest, yes, it’s a wild area, yes. Is it wilderness?” Waller asked. “Man, that’s a stretch in my mind.”
He said it was not much different than a farm, except that it grows trees and not corn or wheat.
“They’ve been logging here since Henry Ford was here,” he said.
Waller presented evidence that bird deaths from wind turbines are insignificant when compared with other sources of bird deaths including communication towers, power lines and cats.
He said the Sierra Club, a grassroots environmental group, supports wind turbines. Its policy, available on its website, states turbines are appropriate “where specific and substantial reasons to oppose it do not exist.”
The policy goes on to say it is inappropriate to build turbines in wilderness areas or places with cultural significance or special scenic value, among other locations. They favor wind development on agricultural land.
He also argued even if construction of the turbines was not done by local contractors, materials for the roads would be sourced locally, and government contracts for improvements paid for by tax revenue would go to local businesses.
He also said that, based on the content of the township’s master plan which was completed the year before the zoning ordinance, he is convinced that the ordinance not allowing turbines in commercial forests was an error of omission, which he called a typo.
Most of the attendees stood and applauded at the end of his presentation.