HURON COUNTY – Representatives from DTE Energy brought commissioners up to speed on the company’s preliminary work on a possible wind farm in the area. “Right now we’re pursuing wind technology in Huron County,” said DTE officials, including Regional Manager Ronald E. Chriss, during the Huron County Commissioners meeting of the whole Tuesday. “To date, we’ve (acquired) about 30,000 acres of land in easement contracts for this development.”
Chriss said DTE has erected three meteorological towers and installed equipment on a local radio tower to collect wind data.
DTE Energy Environmental Supervisor Matthew J. Wagner said the company is in the preliminary stages of creating a wind farm.
The company experienced a setback in late October when, after a lengthy debate, the Lake Township Zoning Board of Appeals denied a variance request submitted by DTE Energy to install a 197 foot meteorological tower on vacant property on the south side of Etzler Road just over a quarter mile west of State Park Road near Caseville.
DTE needed the variance because Lake Township’s ordinance does not allow special structures (such as chimneys or smoke stacks, radio or television transmitting towers or antennas, wireless communication towers, microwave, relay towers or power generation towers) to exceed 175 feet in the agricultural district.
Some zoning board of appeals members had expressed concerns that if they were to give DTE the variance, the company would install numerous met towers all over the township.
Others said there were no special circumstances that would warrant a variance request, and granting the variance would erode the power of the ordinance and variances should only be granted in very specific, exceptional circumstances.
Another member wanted to see the nearby Harvest Wind Farm in action before even “opening the door” to met towers in the township.
“I tend to think they were voting against wind technology in general,” Chriss told commissioners.
Chriss said the company will continue work on possible development in the Thumb which would involve an undefined number of 1.65 megawatt turbines.
Wagner said one 1.65 megawatt turbine could generate enough electricity to power about 400 homes a year.
The turbines are about 395 feet tall, give or take a few feet, he said.
Before the project can progress, three things have to happen, Wagner said.
First, a variety of wind studies need to be conducted. Second, the affects the turbines may have on the area’s wildlife has to be studied. Lastly, land has to be acquired.
The company will need at least a year to collect data before it can commit to erecting any turbines, Wagner said.
He said DTE began studying wildlife issues earlier this summer, including bird counts and other survey collections.
Wagner said the wildlife studies – which are being conducted by the same biologists who conducted the environmental studies for the Harvest Wind Farm in Elkton – should take about two years.
“The longer, the better,” Wagner said. “We want to do it right.”
He said he’s heard concerns from people about the safety of birds who live in the area.
Already, biologists are finding that the larger birds are practicing avoidance behavior – meaning they’re smart enough to go around the turbines, Wagner said.
Also, the turbines would be oriented so as not to force birds to fly in a certain direction, he said.
A lot of concerns about a wind park’s affect on bird populations stem from a park in California that used out-of-date turbines that were indeed harmful to birds, Wagner said, assuring commissioners that the turbines DTE would erect would be up-to-date and wouldn’t pose the problems the older ones in California had.
“Turbines are very different now,” he said. “ … And siting is more careful now.”
As for the process of acquiring land, Chriss said it’s moving right along.
Wagner said any land the company acquires near the shoreline shouldn’t endanger the bay.
“We purposefully tried to keep a buffer from the shoreline,” he said, noting there have been some easements acquired near Rush Lake. “But just because there’s an easement there, doesn’t mean a turbine will go there. We have to do the (environmental wildlife) tests first.”
Commissioners specifically wanted to know where the electricity generated from the turbines would go. Chris said the energy will go on the state’s transmission and distribution systems.
“We can’t guarantee every electron produced in Huron County will stay in (the Thumb),” he said. “But it’s going to bolster the infrastructure of the state.”
Commissioner Chairman Bob Haldane expressed concerns that a wind farm would interfere with hunting by causing more restrictions for area outdoor sportsmen.
“There will be some problems if hunting is restricted,” he said.
DTE representatives said hunters shouldn’t have any problems because the turbines wouldn’t be erected in wooded areas. Also, turbines aren’t considered residents, so hunters wouldn’t be forced to stay hundreds of feet away from them as they would from houses.
In other business, Commissioner Dave Peruski said the Equalization Department will stay as it is until at least Dec. 6, when hopefully the county will know whether or not it can share an equalization director with Tuscola County.
The county has been in an emergency status since former Equalization Director Coiene Tait was removed from office for what commissioners construed as misconduct. At that time, commissioners also removed Tait’s husband, Tim Tait, from the position of assessor.
Since then, the board has hired a variety of contractors to complete appraisal studies that had to be finished in 2007. Peruski said most of the studies and work that has to be completed this year is in the process of being finished. “What’s needed in 2007 is pretty much done,” he said. “We won’t address hiring anyone new until at least Dec. 6.”
Commissioners also heard from former Huron County Commissioner Mike Gage who asked on behalf of the Greater Huron County United Way for the board to allow the organization to ask county employees for donations.
The board agreed it would be OK for someone from the Greater Huron County United Way to come to the Huron County Building for a day and meet with interested employees to tell them how they can make voluntary contributions to the organization which Gage said gives 98 cents of every dollar donated back to Huron County.
The board also briefly discussed findings from a recent actuary report on retirement health care. An in-depth story about the report will appear in a future edition of the Huron Daily Tribune.
By Kate Hessling
21 November 2007