IONIA, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Board Members of Ionia County’s Keene Township officially voted to extend the moratorium on building solar projects in the community after public comments at the February board meeting.
The Board led by Board Trustee Corey Wojcik in the absence of Township Supervisor Robert Simpson, limited public comments to five individuals from the Group Project Keene – an advocacy group that is against the expansion of solar panels in the community, and two comments separate from Project Keene.
The first speaker was Tom Sprig, PhD in Mathematics and former professor who spoke to the sound levels of solar sites which surpass the normal decibel levels appropriate for communities.
“How much noise is too much?,” Sprig began, “Take the sound of the waves crashing on Lake Michigan that can easily rise to seven or eight decibels but almost nobody thinks the sound of breaking waves is annoying.”
He proceeded to explain how the sound is experienced as broadband or white noise which some people even use to sleep, however the typical solar site sound levels are far higher.
“The good news is that solar sites don’t have to be noisy, and regulations can capture all of the noise,” he said, “That’s why my strongest recommendation to the board is to take the time to write a good ordinance.”
Sprig offered the following language as a possible cure to the excess noise that some sites experience: No source of sound shall be 10 decibels greater than the existing background levels and no source of sound shall create a pure tone.
“We believe that Invenergy has manipulated this entire situation on our unsuspecting community and taken advantage of how trusting we all have been of our township officials,” a concerned citizen of the Keene Project said, “In other words we were not attending these meetings, but we are now.”
Due to the many unanswered questions, ideas, and concerns that had not been thoroughly considered, she said, and because of that Protect Keene asked for an additional year moratorium on industrial solar and wind.
“We would also like to point out that any developer, including Invenergy is not a reliable source of information about anything that is going into our ordinance,” the same community member added, “Their job is to sell their project and to meet commitments to their shareholders, they are not the ones looking out for all of us. This is our community and our ordinance; we need to get it right.”
Another member of Protect Keene, Kim Newell, presented a powerpoint presentation using photos that she and others took while looking at solar projects in surrounding areas including those in Lenon and Calhoun. The Calhoun Invenergy project was built near an industrial looking gravel pit according to Newell, a place that is more industrial than Keene.
“I know we’ve heard a lot about how they plant trees so we won’t see all of these solar panels but as you can see, the trees aren’t very big anywhere and most of them are dead,” Newell said, “According to a resident in Linon, [Invenergy] has already come through and planted a second round of trees there and they’re all dying again too.”
In addition to the stunningly bad glare, according to Newell, she was concerned for the residents whose houses have and will get surrounded by projects.
Following the public comments, the board presented new business which included the acknowledgment that the Planning Commission that met the previous week, did not finish discussing all of the solar panel building plans and the Township’s ordinance which they had anticipated finishing by the time of the meeting. Trustee Wojckic motioned to extend the Moratorium through June 30 and without discussion of the motion the board members voted in favor of extending the moratorium through June 2023 which would continue to prohibit solar building projects in the township.
Board Trustee Brett Hulliberger concluded the meeting by sharing a letter that he had written to the rest of the board regarding his thoughts on the whole solar debate within the township and how divisive it has been. But he pleaded for the township to come together and trust the board.
“There are fresh perspectives on the board that I think we need to discover, a renewed sense of community and clarity and work together as a community and a team which starts with dropping the recall. We need to regroup and get back to business,” Hulliberger said.
Wojck concluded the meeting by inviting all those in the room to attend the next Planning Commission Meeting on March 7 to share their voice.