The City of Rockford Planning Commission listened to advice from Cascade Engineering’s Jessica Lehti on crafting a wind turbine ordinance. She spoke before the group on Thursday, January 28 at Rockford City Hall after a dinner of pizza and soda.
Cascade Engineering’s Renewable Energy Solutions has sold turbines around the world and has worked with municipalities that have ordinances in place and those that do not.
According to Rockford City Manager Michael Young, there have not yet been any proposed wind turbine installations in Rockford, but Wolverine World Wide has considered putting in large wind turbines in years past. Leiti said Wolverine has contacted her company more recently and has a meeting set up to discuss wind turbines.
“We waste a lot of energy in America,” Lehti said. She said it is important to look for new ways of creating energy. “The way we are doing it now [creating energy] is not very efficient.” She said it is important to look for new ways of creating energy now before we have rolling blackouts, and stated that the way we make energy now, from coal and natural gas, will not last forever.
Lehti explained the output of different wind turbines in kilowatt hours and said ten 100 kilowatt-bulbs use one kilowatt of energy, and left on for one year use 8,760 kilowatts (kW) of power. In her household she took on a company challenge of lowering energy use and is leading with a low 6,000 kW per year.
Smaller wind turbines, those up to the size of a water tower (a large small, Lehti said), generate considerably less energy than larger ones, whose energy creation is measured in megawatts. One megawatt is 1,000 kWs of energy. Lehti said a beneficial aspect of wind energy is that wind is often most powerful at the hours of the day when more energy is being used, between 12:30 and 4 p.m. Unfortunately, Michigan is not a particularly windy state. Wind quality in Rockford is not substantial, she said.
Lehti advised Rockford to create an ordinance for both residential and industrial areas of the City and said some cities only allow installation through special use permits, which is expensive and time consuming. She said that the Federal Aviation Association already regulates wind turbines, but it would likely benefit Rockford to have its own regulations. “People don’t always like to follow the rules,” she stated.
She discussed what was jokingly referred to as “turbine psychois,” where people oppose them on the grounds that they create flicker and kill birds and bats. “They don’t want to hear that 97-percent of the birds that are killed were mostly killed by the family cat,” Lehti said. At Cascade Engineering they have turbines and have not noticed any dead birds in the years since installation.
Lehti also reported few complaints from the turbines the company has installed. One that did generate complaints was a turbine installed on a historic home. That complaint was later resolved. She said there are 80 of her company’s turbines now in the United States and 250 in the United Kingdom.
At this time the cost of installing a turbine is not going to be recovered by the cost of energy saved, despite a 30-percent federal incentive. “Ultimately we are going to need a state incentive. Today here in Michigan its not about putting dollars in your pocket.”
Young said he believes there is no reason to wait in creating an ordinance and pointed out that there is already a wind turbine in Courtland Township. “It makes all the sense in the world to me to craft an ordinance. It’s only a matter of time before we receive a request.”
In other business before the board, Young said that the Congregational Church will likely ask for permission for an expansion and have discussed removing a home on Fremont Street to create a circular drive. Planning Commissioner Tammy Bergstrom pointed out that the board has declined similar requests in the past and considers tearing down homes to be a detriment to a neighborhood.
Young also asked the commission to consider a six-month moratorium on growing medical marijuana. According to Brien Dews, who is the City Council liason to the Planning Commission, state law now allows 12 plants per person to those who qualify for medical marijuana use. “The state is going to look into it, but the state can’t get anything done or get anything right,” Young said. “It’s obviously a new topic and somewhat fascinating. It’s like everything else, we have to decide where we will allow it.” According to Young, the City has not yet had any requests to grow or distribute marijuana.