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.
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.