Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Commentary: White Pine Wind Farm

Patty O'Connell explains the locations
of the proposed towers,
at the Open House on Sept 30

by Joan H. Young

Yesterday I attended one of the open house sessions which provided further information about the proposal to place 15 wind turbines within the Manistee National Forest. I came away slightly better informed, but no more settled on how I feel about this proposed project. Many other people were there as well, and I heard a lot of people also bemoaning the difficulty of wholeheartedly endorsing this idea.

BP Alternative Energy provided a state-of-the-art virtual tour of the area where the turbines will be placed. Superimposed on a video of a drive down Forest Trail, approaching Lake Michigan Recreation Area (LMRA), are animations of the turbines. Thus you are able to visualize how much the towers will be seen. The answer is, from the road, not too much. Well, sort of... If some of the alternative tower sites are chosen, there are several towers which will be close to the road. And of course there are other places one might be, other than the road.

From the north viewing platform at LMRA only the tops of the towers will be visible. The virtual tour shows this. It also indicates that not much will be visible from the beach. However, the virtual tour does not point out at all the fact that the towers will be very visible from anywhere out on the water, looking back at the shoreline. I imagine they will be quite visible from the higher, south viewing platform. The virtual tour makers selected the sites to show us very carefully.

The Forest Service will be taking a lot of heat, I suspect, over this proposal. However, they are just doing their job. When Special Use Permits are requested, they are obligated to consider them. A bevy of rangers was on hand at the open house, politely answering questions and explaining things. I saw several posters, and the virtual display by the energy company, but I did not see any human representing them. Maybe they had just stepped out for a moment when I was there...

The roads which will be constructed and improved will be dirt roads; no new pavement will be laid down. Except for the eastern section between the substation and the main transmission line, all the cables will be underground.

Construction will disrupt the use of LMRA. There will be times when the access road will be closed, rendering that entire campground, beach, trail system, and other facilities inaccessible by vehicle. Of course this will be temporary.

I have come across other wind farms while hiking, particularly in New York State. In one place the North Country Trail passes quite close to the base of a turbine. And in another location there is a flock of turbines just a hill or so away. I have to say that in both of these cases, my reaction is positive. The turbines are big, yes, but impressive big, not ugly big. Somehow they don't cause the same visceral reaction of hatred that a single cell tower on a hilltop creates. They are very quiet.

And of course, they provide clean energy. It's estimated that the White Pine Wind Farm will produce 50-70 megawatts of power.

And now for the NIMBY part (Not In My Back Yard). I would love to endorse this project. But why, oh why, do they have to want to build it right next to the only designated wilderness in Michigan's Lower Peninsula, Nordhouse Dunes? Nordhouse is directly to the south of the project area. The ridge on which a great deal of that wilderness sits is higher than the turbine locations. So I suspect that there will be some spots within the wilderness from which you will be able to see them. And from a boat, I suspect that not many people can easily tell where the wilderness boundary is. They just look shoreward and see a beautiful, uncluttered coastline. Now.

Well, I have 12 days to decide what my comments to the Forest Service will be. I wonder what I will say.

See Public Comment Sought on White Pines Wind Turbine Project Near Nordhouse Dunes
These links are checked on the date of the article. As the article ages, some links may become invalid

Go To for all the news
See Lake Michigan Recreation Area
See Nordhouse Dunes

1 comment:

steve said...

I live in Manistee Michigan where , in October, I attended a meeting meant to introduce the public to the proposed White Pines Wind Farm in Mason County. A virtual reality drive presented the viewer with the 28 widely spaced 420 ft. turbines that barely peeked over the tree line. I overheard an elderly lady reply to her husband “see it’s not so bad, the trees will hide them”. Based on the video an easy conclusion to make, unless you’ve walked the property, where due to regular logging the trees are only an average of 50-60 ft.
There are currently proposals to place industrial sized wind farms in the national forests of Vermont, Michigan, and Virginia. Forests in other states await further study. The companies seeking to develop our forests are large and foreign owned; British Petroleum seeks to develop nearly 10,000 acres in Michigan and Iberdrola Renewables of Madrid, Spain would move on the Green Mountains National Forest of Vermont. Each of the giant turbines requires a 60 ft. diameter cement pad 30 ft. deep. This along with the massive infrastructure to support their construction will devastate these fragile ecosystems. These are not the vast open public lands of the west, only 13% of our national forests system lies east of the Mississippi River. Because of their proximity to large urban areas they are enjoyed by millions and form the foundations of thriving tourist economies. Why isn't such a looming and potentially devastating threat to our national forest system being more actively publicized by the myriad array of conservation groups previously charged with their protection? Perhaps when having to make the choice of protecting the wilderness or standing in the way of long awaited “green technologies” many are choosing to stand silent. Are the millions of tons of cement poured to construct a wind farm any less malignant to these ecosystems than the cement that would be used to build a coal fired electric plant over them?
Why, you also should ask, in such economically depressed times can’t leases be signed to locate these industrial sized projects on the states previously cleared private lands? On November 20,2008 Michigan’s second largest utility,Consumers Energy, announced the construction of meteorological towers to study the wind-generating potential of more than 28,000 acres of easements on private land in two Michigan counties, Tuscola and Mason. Mason County is the location of the proposed White Pines Wind Farm. Why would our government entertain such proposals when viable alternatives to the use of public lands is available?
What will be lost? Nearly 10,000 acres of the Manistee-Huron national Forest that borders on lake Michigan containing two crystal clear watersheds, Gurney and Cooper Creeks. This forest lies adjacent to the Nordhouse Dunes, the lower peninsulas only designated wilderness area. Here generations of residents from ours and neighboring states have camped,hunted, and enjoyed the outdoors in a variety of ways. The area supports the typical variety of woodland fauna, including black bears, and in recent years has welcomed the resurgence of bald eagles, it is a beautiful forest.
By hiding behind this “green label” has big business finally found the back door into our forest system they have long desired? I believe our forests are no place for this type of development, they are a legacy, handed down to all Americans and should never fall victim to any administrations “pet projects”. The forests of Vermont and Michigan may be the first to fall and thus set a dangerous precedent with far ranging implications for the entire national forest system. Due to the lack of media attention this story currently garners I would encourage those who realize the importance of our remaining wild spaces to spread the word and let your voice be heard. We cannot save the planet by adding to its deforestation.

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