Williamston Wind Turbine Drama
This article was last updated on: February 20th 2022
A meme Williamston Community Update member Christina Wade posted on several occasions in mockery of the anti-turbine people.
"If it is so easy for me to shred Citizens For Townships Against Turbines own arguments they choose to mail out to community; what will APEX with a team of lawyers do? They can sit back now; and watch the circus then in court attack the nonsense later and show a judge how the group tainted the community against their project. You guys have to step up your game! I'm just a dirt farmer practice sparring with you."
- Mark Benjamin to Timm Wiseley and Smitty Geno on Facebook, May 2021.
"A dude died at a township meeting and has been made a martyr for the cause. We are approaching satire."
- Ian Hampton on the state of the anti-turbine movement, 07/21/21.
The Williamston Wind Turbine drama is a feud between Facebook boomers in our area that started in 2019 and gained traction in late 2020. The main battleground was the Williamston Community Update group, a local group for Williamston residents. The drama is all about whether or not local farmers should work with Apex Clean Energy to construct wind turbines on their private property, and whether or not it is legal to build turbines in Ingham County townships in the first place. Proponents of the turbines include the elite Mark Benjamin, a farmer who has single handily taken on almost all of the anti-turbine people via paragraph long comment threads and mockery. Supporters of the project believe the turbines will significantly contribute to the local economy and are an overall good thing. Meanwhile, opponents of the turbine project have adopted all sorts of conspiracies and falsehoods about wind turbines, and have even created their own group known as "Ingham County Citizens United" to further their agenda.
Despite minimal updates on the project, which isn't even expected to be completed until 2024 at the earliest, constant drama and bickering remains commonplace whenever the subject is brought up. Local township meetings are often attended by people on both sides of the issue, as township meetings are frequent and the project is still in its early stages. The drama has greatly expanded beyond Facebook, with Ingham County Citizens United selling signs and shirts locally and even running a booth in the local county fair. In addition to their plans to develop Ingham County, Apex Clean Energy is also working on a turbine project in Montcalm County. Anti-turbine citizens there have made their own group called "Montcalm County Citizens United". Their group is significantly larger than that of Ingham County Citizens United, who frequently links to their posts and cites them in their own discussions. These two groups are likely working with each other on some level, as their names are similar and they have adopted similar slogans and logos.
Wind Turbine Plans
As far back as 2019, a clean energy company known as Apex Clean Energy announced plans to build 50-75 wind turbines in Ingham County, the county in which Williamston, Michigan is located. Known as the Kalamink Wind project, the company seeks to lease land in Wheatfield, Leroy, Ingham, White Oak, and Stockbridge townships by colluding with local farmers. The company claims the wind turbines could generate enough energy to power 72,000 homes a year, create jobs, and create new tax revenue for the local economy. Some of this taxed income might end up helping the schools. Apex claimed that the project was still in very early development, and would likely be completed in 2024 at the earliest.
It was not until 2020 that this project gained mainstream attention. On October 23rd of 2020, the local WILX station published an article about the turbine plans, which was somewhat misleading and very bias towards the anti-turbine movement. On February 2nd of 2021, the local WLNS station published a much better article, which included an interview with the protagonist Mark Benjamin and other locals. It also claimed Apex narrowed it down to 60 wind turbines, and that out of 300 responses to a letter sent out by Apex Clean Energy, 2/3rds of the respondents were against the turbine plans. On May 3rd of 2021, an article was published by the local Fox 47 news station, which routinely works with Williamston Community Schools. This article was very pro-turbine and discussed how Apex was still a year away from making the proposal, and how 73% of the residents did not support the project.
As previously mentioned, this project is still in very early development. No clear consensus has been established on when the construction will begin (aside from the vague 2024). Apex Clean Energy already completed a project in northern Michigan around 2013, which was very successful. Regardless, the project faces opposition in two areas. For one, according to the limited poling the company has conducted, the project is very unpopular. However, the accuracy of the polls/surveys conducted is questionable, as they have only had 300-400 respondents. Mark Benjamin claims many of his neighbors did not partake in the survey, but leaned towards supporting the turbines after talking with him. Secondly, most of the local townships such as Leroy township have legislation which allows wind turbines of 400 feet or less. Apex has suggested that the wind turbines may be larger than that, which means the ordinance would have to be updated in order for construction to begin. The WILX article claimed that the turbines would be 600 feet tall, but this is likely a false claim, as most Wind Turbines don't even come close to that. Furthermore, Apex hasn't released anything conclusive on the planned turbine height that we can find.
Reaction From Williamston Community Update Facebook Members
Plenty of drama and arguing has insured over the wind-turbine situation. While overall reception seems evenly split, it is always the same dozen or so people arguing in the comments. Most of the people who are really passionate on the subject are anti-turbine, and spread many conspiracy theories and false information about the wind turbines. The one exception to this rule is Mark Benjamin, a farmer in the county who plans to allow Apex to lease land on his property and argues with seemingly every anti-turbine person on the thread. What's also interesting is how passionate the Williamston Community Update Facebook group is on the subject, even though the Williamstown township is outside of Apex Clean Energy's plans. People like Mark Benjamin in the Facebook group who are actually affected by the issue seem to be in the minority. On March 25th of 2021, group administrator Jenise Daniell created an official Wind Turbine Thread to try and contain the discussion, but this failed. Many people routinely make sarcastic jokes about the situation.
A very factual comment by one of the anti-turbine boomers.
Spokeswoman for Apex Clean Energy's Kalamink Wind project. Has been cited in several articles on the issue.
Charles "Chris" Holzer
A member of the Williamston Facebook group who is against the turbine project. He created the Ingham County Citizens Concerned About Turbines group. He routinely updates those in the group on upcoming events and the state of their movement. At some point in July, he renamed the group to Ingham County Citizens United. Interestingly, he seems to be somewhat reasonable, as he reminded his fellow anti-turbiners to "look at the PragerU YouTube video with the same critical eye that we are using to examine the solar and wind industry" when someone in the group posted a PragerU video to the Facebook group.
A farmer in White Oak township who was approached by Apex Clean Energy. Like Mark Benjamin, David visited the northern wind farm to make up his mind. He is a supporter of the turbine project and has agreed to lease his land to Apex. He was interviewed in the Fox 47 article.
Township Supervisor of Leroy Township, one of the townships involved in the Apex project. His township sent out a letter on November 30th of 2020, which received over 300 responses and was 2:1 against the project. He also disclosed the 400 foot limit for utility projects in Leroy Township. His opinion on the subject is unclear, he is in favor of green energy but expressed concern with the potential height of the turbines.
A member of the Williamston Facebook group who is against the turbine project. Has joined the Ingham County Citizens Concerned About Turbines group. On May 10th of 2021, she sold anti-turbine yard signs for $5 a piece at McCormic Park. She continued to sell the signs throughout May. Countless numbers of these signs are up across Ingham County, and appear to have been a great success. T-shirts are also in production, but it is unclear if Judy is also responsible for those.
A member of the Williamston Facebook group who is in favor of the turbine project, and has in fact sent in a request to Apex to get turbines on his property. Mark Benjamin owns a large farm in Ingham County, and was initially against the project because of his presumptions against turbines and bad experiences with companies in the past. The construction of I-96 "shaved off a big chunk" of his farm, and in 2020 Consumers Energy threatened to tear his house down to make room for a new pipeline. He supposedly used the Eminent Domain law to save his house, but the pipeline will still be built in 2022 and cause some damage to his property. Mark has personally talk with farmers who were part of the first Apex project in Michigan, and his discussion with them supposedly changed his views. During 2020 and 2021, Mark Benjamin has spent a significant amount of time researching the subject and arguing with anti-turbiners on Facebook. While Mark does provide paragraphs upon paragraphs of facts and information, some of which he got directly from APEX, he also mocks the anti-turbine people frequently.
An Ingham County resident who was against the Apex project. He spoke at many township meetings and was well respected by members of the Ingham County Citizens Concerned About Turbines group. Sometime before July 16th of 2021, Pat collapsed at a Wheatfield Township meeting from a heart attack, just after finishing a speech. He passed away sometime after, and those in the group honor him by pretty much making him a martyr. They have inscribed his name on many of their signs and created a roadside memorial for him.
A member of the Williamston Facebook group who is against the turbine project. Has argued with Mark Benjamin in the comments section of several Facebook threads.
Wind Turbine Conspiracy Theories and Falsehoods
Pretty much nothing the opponents of the turbine project claim holds water. They frequently share misinformation and false statistics about wind turbines. Somebody even cited PragerU as a source, and was promptly laughed at by Mark Benjamin. For example, they often cite oil leaks and "toxic fiberglass" as issues with turbines, despite the fact that oil leaks are rare and components of turbines are not toxic and can be recycled (if done properly). They also vastly underestimate the energy output of wind turbines in an effort to discredit them. Another common argument is that wind turbines kill a lot of birds, and thus are harmful to the environment. Yet, they fail to mention things like telephone wires which have been around for centuries that are responsible for many bird deaths. Some of these people even dip into conspiracy, claiming that wind turbines cause cancer and produce high frequency sounds, citing questionable sources. They also seem to think they have a say in the whole situation, when in reality, this is all taking place on private property. The only possible area they can make ground is in township ordinances, which determine zoning rules for utilities such as wind turbines. As such, people from both sides of the issue have attended many township meetings regarding wind power, which has spread the Facebook drama to real life.
However, the most interesting conspiracy is about the height of the proposed turbines. Those who oppose the wind turbine project often claim that the turbines will be over 600 feet high. While it is true that the project is expected to involve turbines that are larger than 400 feet, Apex has not said anything about 600 foot tall turbines. Most wind turbines are about 280 feet tall, but wind turbines as tall as 600 feet are very rare. A possible origin for this falsehood is the WILX article mentioned earlier, which was one of the first articles discussed on the Facebook group. In the article, it says "Apex spokeswoman Brian O’Shea said the company is planning for the wind turbines to be about 600 feet tall", and yet, no other sources state this, including the Apex website. In all likely-hood, Apex Clean Energy has simply not decided on wind turbine height since the project is so early in development.
Ingham County Citizens United
On April 22nd of 2021 at 10:15am, Chris Holzer founded the group "Ingham County Citizens Concerned About Turbines" on Facebook. It was quickly advertised on the Williamston Community Update group, and has over 460 members. The group broke 100 members in April. The group is heavily moderated, and all comments must be approved by Chris Holzer himself. In the community, they mainly post videos of wind turbine fields in other states and criticize how empty the field under them looks. They also spread information about upcoming township meetings so that they can insure their voice is heard. However, on May 12th of 2021, a Wheatfield township meeting was held. Chris Holzer was "very surprised that no other member of our community spoke up" aside from him. On May 20th of 2021, Chris announced that the group was looking into the "possibility of putting up a "No Turbine" billboard along I-96 or M-43." Over 30 members on the group have voiced their support for this initiative.
An unironic image posted on the Ingham County Citizens Concerned About Turbines group.
On June 17th of 2021, Chris Holzer created a gofundme for the Ingham County Citizens Concerned About Turbines group with a $5,000 goal. They claim to be raising the money to retain legal council in Ingham County and to raise public awareness of the issue. The gofundme may also contribute towards the proposed I-96 billboard (as it was previously suggested to use gofundme to acquire the funds to do that), but this has not been confirmed. Naturally, the image used for the gofundme is of the anti-turbine signs sold at McCormick Park.
The gofundme page four days after its launch, screenshot taken on 06/21/21.
During July, efforts began to secure a booth at the Ingham County Fair for the anti-turbine group. On July 16th of 2021, Judy McManaman provided an update on the subject. She claimed that the group needed to raise $550 for the booth, and that many volunteers would be needed. On July 21st of 2021, a registration link for the booth was shared, implying the group had successfully raised enough money for it, and just needed more volunteers. Also during July, the group was renamed from "Ingham County Citizens Concerned About Turbines" to "Ingham County Citizens United", likely in direct coordination with other anti-turbine groups on Facebook, who have adopted a similar name. During early August, there was indeed an Ingham County Citizens United booth at the local county fair. They sold signs and t-shirts there, and also advertised their Facebook group. Comically, they were placed right next to an Apex booth, the company behind the project.
By October of 2021, several members of Ingham County Citizens United were circulating that the turbines would be 700 feet tall, a hundred more than the previous exaggerated claim of 600 feet. On October 24th, Chris Holzer advertised an official website for Ingham County Citizens United.
Pick up your anti-turbine merch!
One major battleground has been in Leroy township, which has an ordinance that only allows for utilities to reach a height of 400 feet or less. Since Apex has hinted that they want to turbines taller than 400 feet, there is currently ongoing discussion to change this ordinance. Residents have publicly argued for and against implementing said change. The ordinance at Wheatfield township is also being challenged. The legal strength of Chris Holzer and others in the Ingham County Citizens Concerned About Turbines Facebook Group is rather unclear, but they claim have a legal council of sorts. Regardless, they are showing up in numbers to make their opposition heard, as all citizens of Ingham County are allowed to do during public meetings.
On July 19th, a moratorium of 12 months was approved in Ingham Township (not county). This means that any amendments to the current policy on wind turbines for Ingham County cannot be made for at least a year. This is a victory for the citizens against the turbine project, as the township can no longer vote to extend the utility hight limit. However, Apex can simply install their turbines in the countless other townships, so the fight is far from over.
On September 29th, there was discussion about Stockbridge Township in the Facebook group. Judy Mcmanaman addressed the anti-turbine Facebook group about a meeting that occurred on September 30th, at 7:00. Mcmanaman's message urged Stockbridge residents to attend the meeting, claiming "Your silence means you agree with the results!" Mcmanaman implored Stockbridge Township residents to take an official Stockbridge Twp. survey. The survey did not seem to question if turbines were in the Township's best interest, rather where turbines should be installed. This indicates that Stockbridge Township already plans on allowing, or even encouraging the construction of wind turbines. The survey, known officially as the "Stockbridge Township Master Plan" was a very general and wide scoped survey about development in Stockbridge Township.
Until the ordinances are adjusted to allow for taller wind turbines, progress on the Kalamink Wind project may be limited or outright stalled completely. A spokesperson for Apex has claimed they will release an update in 2022. The project is not expected to be completed until 2024 at the earliest. Local farmers such as Mark Benjamin have agreed to lease some of their property for the wind turbines, but the project continues to generate immense controversy. Despite the limited updates, there is still constant drama about the turbines on Facebook. Some who aren't very invested in the whole thing routinely make jokes about the situation anytime it is brought up. The admins of Williamston Community Update have tried and failed to contain the drama, but further action might occur soon. For example, they could possibly force all discussion off the page and solely onto splinter groups such as Ingham County Citizens Concerned About Turbines.
However, this controversy has most definitely spread beyond Facebook. Local press occasionally interviews people of both sides. Township meetings are places where those both for and against the project can speak their mind. As previously mentioned, limited polling suggests that a majority of Ingham County residents are against the project. The Ingham County Citizens United group continues to grow and coordinate with other local anti-turbine Facebook groups. On June 30th, the anti-turbine group had a meeting of sorts where almost 70 people attended across six townships. Ultimately, the game plan of the citizens against the turbine project is to convince the local township legislators to not pass (or revoke) any legislation permitting the installation of wind turbines. Since the project is a deal between a private company and private properties, the only way to stop the project is if the townships decide not to permit the construction of wind turbines due to zoning laws. Prior to this drama, many townships had incomplete or outright no legislation on the subject of wind turbines.
|1. WILX 10 - People upset over proposed wind farm in Ingham County||2. WLNS 6 - People weigh in on proposed wind farm in Leroy Twp||3. Fox 47 News - Apex Clean Energy wants to bring wind turbines to eastern Ingham County|
|4. Jesey-Atlantic Wind - Fact Sheet||5. Apex Clean Energy - Windmill Project Apex||6. Apex Clean Energy - Kalamink Wind FAQ|
|7. Apex Clean Energy - Kalamink Wind Project Profile||8. Facebook - Mark Benjamin Thread||9. Facebook - Chris Lewis Thread|
|10. Facebook - Ingham County Citizens Concerned About Turbines||11. Facebook - Wind Turbine Thread|