Turbine sunrise

Wind turbines are seen from the lookout platform near the corner of Pere Marquette Highway and Conrad Road at sunrise Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. They are part of the 56 turbines that make up Consumers Energy's Lake Winds Energy Park in Riverton and Summit Townships.

Consumers says it will modify operations

Details to be explained to planning commission

Noting it disputes that Lake Winds Energy Park violates the county’s zoning ordinance concerning sound and that it continues to appeal the order to reduce noise at four sites, Consumers Energy nevertheless complied with a Mason County Planning Commission ruling.

The ruling — upheld by the county Zoning Board of Appeals — calls for filing a sound mitigation plan with the planning commission by Friday.

Last Wednesday, Circuit Court Judge Richard Cooper denied a request from Consumers to delay the deadline until the company’s full appeal of the order is heard.

The gist of the four-page plan filed is that Consumers will modify operations of seven turbines at the four sites to achieve reductions in sound that the county’s sound consultant, Howe Gastemeir Chapnik Limited (HGC) determined exceeded the 45 decibel limit at the property line of unpooled parcels.

Consumers does not say in the plan how it will modify operations, nor would it explain how to the Daily News when asked.

Spokesman Dennis Marvin said the company would prefer to give that explanation directly to the Mason County Planning Commission when it meets at the planning office in Scottville at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18 — an hour earlier than originally scheduled. The earlier time is to discuss the Lake Winds mitigation plan, according to Mary Reilly, zoning and building director.

Reilly told the Daily News she expects the details of how the company will modify operations to comply will be part of the questioning by the planning commission next week.

The Mitigation plan

In its filing submitted by William Schoenlein, manager of hydro and renewable generation, Consumers Energy continues to protest and argue HGC’s measurements did not properly remove background sound levels from the total to isolate the contribution from the turbines. Had that been done, the company argues, there would be no violations.

“Lake Winds Energy Park has operated in compliance with the sound requirements of Mason County’s zoning ordinance,” the company begins in its sound mitigation plan filing. “However, Consumers Energy submits the following plan pending the resolution of an appeal before the Mason County Circuit Court. 

“The company reserves the right to revise, supplement or discontinue this plan based on future developments, including — but not limited to — the outcome of the appeal.”

The four test sites involve overages — “alleged,” Consumers states — of 0.9, 1.2, 0.3 and 1.1 decibels.

In its summary of the mitigation plan, Consumers cites three steps it will take:

• Perform acoustic modeling of the affected sites to identify where turbine modifications may be required.

• Implement the mitigation plan on selected turbines.

• Do follow-up testing to determine the new sound levels after the plan is implemented as well as with the turbines operating without restrictions imposed by the mitigation plan.

“The alleged violations at locations 1, 2, 6, and 7 can be corrected by modified operation of select turbines,” the plan states. It cites turbines 6, 15, 20, 23, 28, 32 and 35 as candidates for performance modifications to reduce the sound to meet the levels prescribed by achieving “reductions greater than HGC’s alleged violations at these test sites.”

It said it will then conduct tests to assure it meets the reductions predicted by the modeling used.

The filing includes a page reviewing HGC’s data, noting Consumers’ concerns with it.

The turbines selected for modifications are the ones closest to the test sites where violations were determined — or purported, in Consumers view.

Reaction Tuesday night

Evelyn Bergaila, who lives in the wind farm neighborhood, asked the Mason County Board of Commissioners why the non-compliant wind turbines are still running.

“If turbines are found to be non-compliant, they should be shut down until they are compliant,” Bergaila said. “They should shut these turbines down until the mitigation plan is approved to show they will be in compliance.”

Background

Neighboring residents have complained about the noise. Some have said turbine noise that at times some describe as a roar, as well as low frequency sounds that are difficult to hear, cause problems sleeping and even health problems. While Consumers maintains it has addressed all complaints, it was argued in the hearing before Judge Cooper, that the company addressed the complaints by rejecting them — not actively doing anything to reduce the noise.

Some of the residents complaining are part of a separate lawsuit concerning the impacts of the wind farm on them and their property.

The 100 megawatt Lake Winds Energy Park consists of 56 Vestas V100-1.8-megawatt wind turbines that have a hub height of about 300 feet and a total height with blades of about 456 feet. The park was designed to operate very close to the 45 decibel limit — some argue too close, but Consumers says it properly left a margin of error in the design in case turbines were noisier than expected.

Lake Winds began operation on Thanksgiving Day 2012. The sound study was required to be completed within one year of the start of operations. HGC conducted it in April, 2013. Consumers also hired a company, Tech Engineering, to do a sound study for it at the same time — kind of a shadow study. It reached different conclusions.