Sharing Michigan wind royalties may ease local opposition

By ALEX MITCHELL
Capital News Service

LANSING – Energy companies that want more Michigan wind farms have come up with a solution to placate neighboring property owners: sharing some of the cold hard cash they generate.

Traditionally energy companies pay the property owner to lease their land for windmill construction. Neighbors without windmills receive nothing, even though they complain of noise and visual pollution.

Photo: Stuart Yeates (Flickr)

In community pooling agreements, residents who live near a windmill also get compensation.

“People need to be able to make their own decisions with their land,” said Conrad MacBeth, who lives within a proposed area for the Blissfield Wind Energy Project.

MacBeth said pooling agreements allow everyone to be fairly compensated.

The project, proposed in 2008 by Great Lakes Energy and Exelon Energy, has stalled while three southeast Michigan townships debate zoning for it. Earlier this year the companies proposed that residents within a half mile of any windmills would be compensated with $1,500 a year.

It is a solution that doesn’t satisfy all local critics.

“The so called ‘Good Neighbor Agreement’ promises $1,500 per year. This works out to four dollars per day,” William Sell said, a Riga Township resident. “I am not willing to risk my home and property values, or deal with noise and visual pollution for a lousy four bucks a day!”

A new owner wouldn’t inherit the agreement, so it couldn’t be used to as incentive to sell his home in “Riga’s industrial wind complex,” Sell said.

“I know that money is a very powerful motivator, but after my research and two years worth of township meetings, I would never sign a wind lease,” Sell said. “Most of the developers are foreign companies that will profit at the expense of taxpayers.”

But such agreements may be on the rise as Michigan wind continues to develop.

For the first time the cost of a wind farm is less than that of a coal-fired plant, said James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council.

Clift said that 2008 legislation adopted by the state set the goal for 10 percent of the state’s energy consumption to come from renewable energy by 2015. “It looks like the lion’s share of that will come from wind farms.”

About 500 megawatts of wind is operating or being built in Michigan, said energy consultant John Sarver. By 2015 that will jump to about 1600 megawatts. Each windmill usually provides between 1.5 to 2.5 megawatts.

Elsewhere in Michigan, pooling agreements are already in place. In Gratiot County (50 miles north of Lansing), the site of what will be Michigan’s largest wind farm, residents gave overwhelming approval for the project, said Richard Vander Veen, president of Wind Resources LLC.

Vander Veen said he recommends a pooling agreement if a community is fortunate enough to have the leadership to get such a policy in place.

The key to getting a community on board for a wind project is to get everyone involved early, he said.

“We spent plenty of time at kitchen tables,” Vander Veen said. “We were very careful not to leave the discussion unhappy, even if there was a difference of opinion.”

“We probably had 50 cups of coffee per megawatt,” he joked.

  • Bob

    Please read the very short book “Who Moved My Cheese”. While the Nation and our States and Communities continue to go into debt, and continue to pollute the air we breathe burning coal and oil, we seem content to die of cancer, etc. rather than move on to healthier and more independent solutions. I am apparently a strange breed, but I happen to think windmills are beautiful. But then, I’m Dutch by heritage, and so windmills are probably in my blood. :)

  • Kevon

    If new wind energy plants are cheaper than new coal, that is great news. Why? Because there is no longer any need to subsidize them, correct?

    In fact, their costs have dropped due to the recession and consequent loss of demand (primarily for obsolescing models rather than the latest low wind models, whose prices have remained at parity with prior years) the collapse of steel pricing and a drastic drop in profit margins for manufacturers. So yes, if we remain in recession, distort the statistics, continue outrageous subsidies, steel pricing remains depressed and turbine manufacturers don’t mind running on tiny margins or at a loss, the future for wind looks very bright!

  • TFStacy

    Neighbor agreements let everyone be equally BRIBED, you mean. At least this idea further extends the divining rod between conservatives in name only and those that walk the talk.

    Look, if wind energy were a real player, our federal tax dollars and devalued savings would not be financing the wind mining ruse in the first place. Then states still have to MANDATE its consumption even after that, because wind does not work well with others on the grid.

    If you can’t put these two and two together, you can always hope math and science “just don’t really matter” – even though they do.

    Uncle Sam dips his toe in, and guess what? Wind leaches America!

  • Harold

    I would like to be able to support more wind power, but I hate the thought of putting up more deadly obstacles for bats and birds. The tips of rotating blades are extremely fast and difficult for many species to detect. Vertical axis wind turbines might be much preferable in that regard, but there doesn’t seem to be any interest in experimenting in large-scale vertical axis towers. It’s also a shame that there is not a major push to put solar panels on millions of roofs across the country. That would provide a significant amount of electricity with very few of the negative impacts associated with wind towers.

  • Doug

    How much of the cash that communities might get would go to protecting the birds and bats that might otherwise be killed by the turbine blades?

    How much of the cash that communities would get would go to helping offset the property value losses of folks who end up with a power line from the wind turbines in their back yard?

  • Swany

    Vander Veen said:The key to getting a community on board for a wind project is to get everyone involved early.

    What about the community where a majority of citizens do not want to be involved but the few large landowners with the most property have signed. We could take the paultry Good Neighbor Bribe but must sign off on any right to persue damages.
    The community that does not want to get onboard gets labeled and run over anyway. http://www.goodhuewindtruth.com http://www.coalitionforsensiblesiting.com