Wind power gathers speed

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Michael Fogel is not a newcomer to the renewable energy initiative. In fact, his West Virginia home has been fitted with the green-friendly gadgets since the 1990s, with more on the way

But the same cannot be said for his West Bloomfield Township home. Fogel, 67, is hoping township officials will soon implement a wind turbine ordinance so property owners can offset the increasing costs of electricity and heat supplied by fossil fuels.

“It’s better late than never,” he said. “If everybody would try to do a little bit, we’d contribute to the national energy problem in a great way. It’s exciting to harness free energy.”

Although Metro Detroit isn’t identified by the Wind Energy Resource Zone Board, which was created by a 2008 state law, as a region with the most potential to harvest wind and create energy, a growing number of communities are trying to stay ahead of the “green movement” curve by developing wind turbine ordinances. Port Huron implemented a wind turbine ordinance in August 2007, followed by officials in Taylor and Ray Township, who adopted ordinances last year.

An ordinance will go before the Canton Township Board of Trustees in July; Waterford Township officials have created a rough draft that will likely be ready for a vote by the end of the year, and Howell officials are revising its ordinance regulations. Officials in Commerce, Harrison and West Bloomfield townships are researching wind turbines.

Those property owners in communities that don’t yet have a wind turbine ordinance on the books may still be able to get one by seeking a variance from the zoning board of appeals, experts say.

“I think what we’re seeing is the beginning of a wave of change,” said Chuck Hersey, manager of environmental programs at the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. “As we’re trying to move toward a cleaner economy and a more sustainable environment, these various changes in how we produce and use energy … make all kinds of sense. It’s going to require some revisiting of how (governments) do things.”

Hersey said the aim of a wind turbine ordinance, like all ordinances, is to set parameters to protect neighbors and a community’s character. While every community will set its own guidelines, most will regulate height, noise frequency and maximum wind speed.

Despite some communities’ efforts to adopt such ordinances, many say few residents have taken advantage because the structures are expensive. They start at around $6,000, but costs could come down as new systems come out on the market and advances are made to the technology, said Wayne Beyea, associate director of citizen education with the Michigan State University Land Policy Institute.

“It’s an innovation explosion right now,” he said.

That’s why Port Huron city planners adopted their wind turbine ordinance that allows for structures in any zone with a special approval use permit as long as the property is at least 2 acres. The structures must have an automatic braking system.

They are researching rooftop-mounted wind turbines to determine if those should be included in their ordinance, which allows only for ground-standing towers, said Kimberly Harmer, planning and community development director. Those may be better suited for residential homes instead of the towers, she said.

Only one wind turbine has been installed in Port Huron: St. Clair County Community College installed a 65-foot tower in September, Harmer said. Still, she said city officials are happy to be ahead of the curve since wind turbines are a fairly new concept.

Canton Township resident Jim Demarest hopes the township will adopt an ordinance. The manufacturing representative who sells heat-treating equipment said he would like to purchase one within the next five years.

“Hopefully, in the next five years, GM will have a nice electric vehicle,” said Demarest, 37. “I could be charging my batteries when the car is parked here rather than being on the grid. It makes good sense to have wind and solar energy charging my battery.”

In Ray Township, officials adopted their ordinance last fall after receiving a lot of inquiries from residents, Supervisor Charles Bohm said. While they stand behind the ordinance — which allows turbines as a special land use to stand at a maximum height of 150 feet — the problem lies with the economy.

Bohm said no one has applied to install a wind turbine because they are expensive. The city of Taylor has already seen benefits from its 45-foot-tall, 2.8-kilowatt wind turbine at Heritage Park Petting Farm on Pardee. Not only has it educated children, but it has also cut the electric bill by about 40 percent to 50 percent combined with the solar panels, said Bob Mach, superintendent of building maintenance, vehicle, compost and alternative energy. “Energy costs are so high, everyone is trying to jump on the bandwagon. It’s the right thing to do,” Mach said.

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