Garden Wind Farm expansion gets green light

Published: Oct. 19, 2018 at 6:06 PM EDT
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Heritage Sustainable Energy has been operating 14 wind turbines in the Garden Peninsula since 2012. Now, they're breaking ground on their expansion project near the original wind farm in Garden.

Josh Lucas, Barton Malow’s project manager on the Garden Wind Farm expansion says this year's construction will be limited to widening existing roads, creating some new access roads and planning other electrical infrastructure in preparation for the expansion.

Lucas says construction of 20 new turbines will create plentiful temporary jobs over the next two years.

“Next year, we expect there to be roughly somewhere in the 100 to 150 range of people on site working in Garden on a daily basis at peak," Lucas estimated.

Once finished by the end of 2020, all 34 wind turbines will sustain roughly a dozen permanent jobs.

Land owners will enjoy monthly royalties that come in as a result of the steady winds coming off of northern Lake Michigan. Lori and Dave Gembel are leasors. That means they are allowing Heritage to use their property. There are many leasors allowing Heritage to make use of their land throughout the Garden Peninsula.

The Gembels say that for many landowners, the Wind Farm expansion is akin to winning the lottery. Many landowners are aging farmers with families that apparently do not intend on carrying on the family business. With minimal help and low annual income, the Gembels say that many farmers were on the brink of selling off the family farm and all the property that goes with it.

But now, according to the Gembels, many leasors with hundreds and hundreds of acres can decide to retire or keep the family farm, or both.

Heritage Sustainable Energy will also pay a hefty property tax which will trickle into the rest of the community. And so, a large majority of people on the Garden Peninsula are in favor of the turbines and future growth.

"We need to be self-sufficient and do it the best way we can. And here on our Garden Peninsula wind is the way to do it,” exclaimed Lori Gembel.

She’s happy about creating ‘green energy’ right in her back yard. She was born and raised on the Garden Peninsula. She says her older brother just retired as a result of the new income paid to him by Heritage.

However, people like Sue Rochefort say the existing turbines are unsightly, noisy and they reduce the value of her home. She lives within sight of several of the original turbines. The turbines can also be easily heard from her front porch.

"There is some noise that comes from the wind turbines, but it’s no different than that wind that's blowing through the trees right now. And it's doing something great. It’s making electricity. So you can't beat it," asserted Mrs. Gembel.

"I'm not saying wind turbines are all totally bad. I'm just saying they put them in the wrong spot," Rochefort uttered angrily.

She says she’s lived in her Garden home since 1982. She doesn’t want to deal with moving into another home.

At times, she experiences what is referred to as flicker. This occurs at certain times of the day and can also occur more frequently at certain times of the year. Flicker happens when, for example, the rising sun shines through the spinning blades of the turbine. The result is a bothersome flicker which, according to Rochefort lasts 20-40 minutes a day most days.

Rochefort says the flicker combined with noise from the spinning turbines day/night on top of the fact that the turbines dominate the landscape are taking a toll on her sanity. She wants Heritage to shut down the turbines near her home down at certain times of day and at night to minimize the impact on her property.

Heritage Sustainable Energy Land Manager, Alan Kostrzewa, says they’re working closely with the community on a reasonable compromise moving forward. Their original expansion proposal included 44 new turbines but based on public comments and input, he says some sites were eliminated and others were moved in order to be less intrusive.

"We listened to the people. We listened and we acted. We made changes. And we're trying to be a good neighbor as much as possible to everyone out there. There are certain things that you have to compromise and deal with. And we do not feel that they are having a significant impact on people’s day-to-day lives or the enjoyment of their property,” declared Kostrzewa.

Heritage plans to install five new turbines before fall of 2019. The remaining 15 will be installed in 2020.