BAD AXE – Huron County officials earlier this week reported there’s been some confusion regarding two Nov. 2 county ballot proposals that ask voters to confirm the creation of two new wind districts.
Much of the confusion stems from which areas will be allowed to vote on the issue. There’s also confusion about what the actual ballot proposals mean for Huron County, said Building and Zoning Director Russ Lundberg.
The Huron County Clerk’s Office also reported hearing similar confusion regarding the two county proposals, which are identified as “Proposal 1” and “Proposal 2.” The Huron County proposals are different from the two state proposals, which are identified as “Proposal 10-1” and “Proposals 10-2.”
The following is a Question and Answer session the Tribune compiled to help address some questions that are floating around the local area.
Q & A
Q: What are the Huron County proposals?
Proposal 1 asks voters in the county’s zoning jurisdiction to confirm an ordinance amendment county officials previously approved to create a wind overlay district in portions of Bloomfield, Rubicon and Sigel townships, generally bounded by Kinde Road on the north, Iseler Road on the west, Port Hope Road on the east and M-142 (Sand Beach Road) on the south.
Proposal 2 asks voters in the county’s zoning jurisdiction to confirm an ordinance amendment county officials previously approved to create a wind overlay district in portions of McKinley Township, generally bounded by Filion Road on the north, Caseville Road on the west, Gagetown Road on the east and Campbell Road on the south.
While the proposals seek to amend the ordinance in terms of a map amendment, they do not change any existing text and standards for wind energy in Huron County.
“It’s an amendment to the zoning ordinance by allowing this overlay district to be created. That’s all it’s doing. It’s utilizing the existing text and the existing standards in the ordinance to create this overlay district. Is it altering the standards in the ordinance? No, it is not,” Lundberg said. “It’s a zoning map amendment that alters two areas of the county from a zoning classification of agriculture to a zoning classification of agriculture with a wind overlay district. And these two overlay districts are only over land as specified in the two amendments – it’s not county wide.”
Q: Can I vote on the wind proposals?
A: You can vote on the wind proposals if you are a registered voter who lives in a township in the county’s zoning jurisdiction and do not live in a city or village. The 14 townships in the county’s zoning jurisdiction include Bingham, Bloomfield, Dwight, Fairhaven, Gore, Grant, Hume, Lincoln, McKinley, Rubicon, Sheridan, Sherman, Sigel and Winsor.
While some are under the impression only voters in Bloomfield, Sigel, Rubicon and McKinley townships will be able to vote on the proposals, that is not the case, Lundberg said. All voters within the county’s zoning jurisdiction will be able to vote.
Cities and villages are not included in the county’s zoning jurisdiction. Townships that are not under the county’s zoning jurisdiction include Lake, Caseville, Paris, Verona, Brookfield, Sebewaing, Chandler, Colfax, Meade, Oliver, Huron, Sand Beach, Pte. Aux Barques and Port Austin. So if you live in these townships, or a city or village within the 14 townships under county zoning, you will not be able to vote on the wind ballot proposals.
Q: If I vote yes on the county proposals, does it mean there will be wind districts in my township?
A: Only if you live in Bloomfield, Sigel, Rubicon or McKinley townships.
The proposals are not asking voters to approve a county-wide wind district, Lundberg said. Per the county’s ordinance, if someone wants to create a wind farm development, they have to have the county create a wind district in the area they wish to develop. Heritage Sustainable Energy and DTE Energy previously asked the county for the two respective districts and the districts were approved by the county. The districts are on the Nov. 2 ballot because a resident petitioned a ballot referendum on the matter.
If a developer wants to create a wind farm elsewhere in the county’s jurisdiction, the developer would have to follow the same process that DTE Energy and Heritage Sustainable Energy did to have the county to create an individual wind district. The district wouldn’t be up for a vote of the people, however, unless a resident in the county’s zoning jurisdiction submitted a petition for a ballot referendum.
Q: If I vote yes on the proposals, will it result in 2,824 wind turbines in Huron County in the future?
A: No. Because the county has amended the noise and setback requirements in the wind zoning ordinance, it is impossible to have that many turbines erected in Huron County, Lundberg said. At most, the ordinance would allow for two to three turbines in a square mile, and no turbines can be sited in areas close to residential homes, wetlands, airports, state highways, trees and in townships that don’t have a wind ordinance, among other specific areas.
Lundberg said voters shouldn’t be misled by a map showing thousands of turbines in Huron County that has been distributed in various parts of the county by Residents Against Wind (RAW) in Huron County, a group recently formed in opposition to Proposals 1 and 2.
He said that map references estimates of the maximum number of turbines the Thumb could have. Those estimates were done via an academic study by the state that based the maximum number of turbines on the state’s siting guidelines, which are more lax than the county’s guidelines, Lundberg said.
RAW Spokesman Edward Korleski said the 2,824 turbines on RAW’s map represent 4,200 megawatts of nameplate capacity.
“The proposed transmission system is 5,000 megawatts, so it would serve even more turbines than are on the map,” he said. “ …. The industry standard spacing is 60 acres per megawatt, which happens to be the spacing at Harvest (Wind Farm). Five to eight turbines per square mile depending on nameplate capacity … a 5,000 megawatt transmission system at 60 acres equals 300,000 acres, divided by 640 equals 470 square miles of wall to wall turbines.”
Though there will be transmission capacity for thousands of turbines, there isn’t enough eligible land available for that many turbines to be sited in Huron County, considering the amended noise and setback limits, Lundberg said. Also, the industry is moving toward larger turbines that have larger capacity generators, which could result in future developments using fewer turbines.
Lundberg stressed not every square mile of the total number of acres under lease with wind companies will have a turbine sited on them. He estimated the realistic maximum number of turbines that could be cited in Huron County is about 700 to 730, he said.
Voters need to realize the two proposals only are for districts in McKinley, Rubicon, Bloomfield and Sigel townships, Lundberg said. If any other developments were to be created, the county would have to approve the creation of new districts in the proposed development areas. Creating a wind district is just the first step in the lengthy process of creating a wind development.
Q: If the proposals pass, will it open the door for a flood of new wind farms in the near future?
A: No. Wind farms are not created overnight, and there won’t be any new commercial-scale future wind developments created in Huron County over the next few years, as there is not the transmission capacity to facilitate those types of projects, Lundberg said.
While the projects proposed for the wind districts on the Nov. 2 proposals potentially will have interconnection capabilities, any future projects will have to wait for the new Thumb loop transmission line to be created, he said. The estimated completion for that is 2015.
Strictly looking at the two proposed wind districts on the Nov. 2 ballot, Lundberg said those projects will use a 45 decibel noise limit for all dwellings, including non-participating and participating landowners, unless a landowner wants to waive that limit. The limit, along with the developers’ proposed setbacks, will result in DTE Energy and Heritage being able to utilize only about 20 percent of the districts’ square miles for consideration of siting turbines, he said.
Q: Will my utility bills increase because of new wind farms and transmission upgrades?
A: Yes. But will voting ‘no’ on the two proposals prevent any utility bill increase? No. That is because the increases are happening no matter what voters decide Nov. 2.
Utilities have been mandated to have at least 10 percent of their energy come from renewable sources, per Michigan’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard legislation. That legislation allows utility companies to charge a monthly surcharge to help pay for renewable energy projects. The legislation also included steps for upgrading transmission lines to facilitate new renewable energy development in Michigan.
ITC Transmission officials previously stated the Thumb has been virtually at maximum transmission capacity prior to wind farm development. The state’s renewable energy legislation required the creation of wind zones that would be the focus of expedited transmission upgrades to facilitate wind development. The Thumb region was identified as the state’s primary wind zone and ITC Transmission has since been working on upgrading the area’s transmission capacity via the Thumb loop project.
Unlike other transmission upgrade projects where residents in the immediate upgrade area are the ones who pay for upgrades, Thumb residents will not be the only ones to pay for the new Thumb loop. ITC Transmission officials previously explained the cost will be spread out across the state since the electricity generated from Thumb wind parks will go to other areas.
Lundberg added the transmission upgrade isn’t just necessary to facilitate new wind parks – it’s needed for any kind of new energy generating facility, including plasma digesters, natural gas components, ethanol plants and biomass facilities.
“Yes, wind is one reason for (transmission upgrades), but other generators are out there that would likely tie in,” he said.
Q: Will my property values decrease because of wind turbines?
A: While opponents of commercial scale wind farms believe they do decrease property values, citing testimony and reports from other parts of the country, county officials say local equalization reports and studies by the U.S. Department of Energy show otherwise.
The property values of homes near the two existing wind farms in Huron County have not suffered as a result of the wind turbines, according to reports from the Huron County Equalization Office. In Huron County, overall property values increased last year, primarily because of increased values in agricultural lands. While there was some decrease in residential values overall in the county, the decreases were attributed to the struggling economy because decreases were widespread – not just in areas near wind developments.
Lundberg noted some property values have significantly increased in the Harvest Wind Farm development. A new home currently is being built on land in that development, and there currently is a home being built on land in Bingham Township that has two wind turbines sited on it, which is an indication that people aren’t afraid to build on land that has turbines on it, he said.
In late 2009, findings from a government-funded study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showed living near wind farms won’t noticeably lower property values.
“Neither the view of wind energy facilities nor the distance of the home to those facilities was found to have any consistent, measurable and significant effect on the selling prices of nearby homes,” said report author Ben Hoen in a press release.
The release states the study’s conclusion is very important because one of the biggest criticisms of wind power has been that the turbines are unsightly and will cause properties that they are on or near to lose considerable value.
However, there are those who disagree that turbines don’t adversely affect property values, including RAW in Huron County, which distributed information in the local community citing testimony from Michael McCann, a certified real estate appraiser, regarding property value impacts in Adams County, Ill. That testimony stated real estate sale data typically reveals a range of 25 percent to 40 percent of value loss, with some instances of total loss as measured by abandonment and demolition of homes, some bought out by wind energy developers and other exhibiting nearly complete loss of marketability.
“Do you honestly believe that the value of a piece of land that would have, say, a retirement house built, would retain its value? … The premise that property values do not fall is indefensible in my opinion,” Korleski said.
Regarding the U.S. Department of Energy’s study’s findings, he said the federal government often is very wrong. Korleski said other reports refute the government’s findings, including a Sept. 21 report by the Casper Journal stating a market analysis found properties directly adjacent to the Chevron wind farm near Casper, Wyoming are “virtually unmarketable” at “any realistic price.”
Lundberg said it’s not difficult to find reports about wind turbines adversely affecting properties elsewhere around the country because “people don’t report good news, people report bad news.”
He said it’s impossible to make a statement across the board that wind turbines are bad for property values, especially considering that Huron County’s overall values prove otherwise.
“We have two things going for us: The shoreline and agricultural land – we wouldn’t want to destroy either with wind turbine development,” he said, noting turbines have been properly placed so they are away from the shoreline and help preserve farmland.
Q: Will I benefit at all from new wind developments, or will only a few large landowners and wind investors benefit?
A: Areas with wind farm developments do benefit as a whole, as does the county, because wind projects pay county operation and county senior citizens, transportation and veterans millages, school debt and school sinking fund millages, library millages, and local township operating and other special millages for things like police, fire, EMS and roads.
While participating landowners do receive payments from wind projects, “everyone gains because of the fact that there are royalties going to participating landowners, (and) that means those dollars are going to be circulated back into the local community,” Lundberg said.
Local wind energy proponents, including the Citizens for Wind Energy, believe everyone in Huron County will benefit from future wind developments because they will result in economic growth and new jobs for Huron County.
Local opponents to wind energy, specifically RAW in Huron County, believe wind is part of an industry that is inefficient, expensive and heavily subsidized by government, and wind farms don’t help anybody “except a few large landowners, wind investors and their political cronies,” according to a mailing RAW recently sent to various Huron County residents.
County officials disagree, pointing to tax information that proves otherwise.
The total property tax collected in the area from both Michigan Wind 1 and Harvest Wind – including all taxes paid to the four townships, county, local schools and libraries – exceeded $1.08 million in 2009 and are anticipated to be around $1.02 million in 2010, according to projections from the Huron County Equalization Office.
A study county officials previously compiled shows the two area parks are expected to produce $11.3 to $11.4 million in tax revenue to local and county government, as well as other local entities such as a library and two local school districts, over the course of 15 years.
The Huron County Economic Development Corporation conducted a study that estimated if there were 1,000 turbines placed in Huron County, more than $450 million in tax revenue would be generated over a 15-year period. Lundberg said that figure is a bit high, considering it’s more likely only a maximum of about 700 turbines will be sited in Huron County. But, he added, the tax revenue from 700 turbines over 15 years still will be substantial.
But Korleski said if the federal government cuts subsidies, there won’t be any tax revenue and wind turbine developments will be abandoned.
He added the fear of losing the subsidies is what caused projects elsewhere to be put on hold and why John Deere pulled out of the wind industry business.
John Deere officials have not said that is the case.
Ken Golden, Deere & Company Strategic Public Relations director, previously told the Tribune the impetus behind Deere’s decision to sell its wind energy business is not because of a lack of confidence in the wind energy industry. Instead, it was become more strategically focused on its equipment businesses.
Lundberg said he hasn’t seen any credible information that subsidies will decrease or evaporate in the future. In fact, he said, he’s heard just the opposite – that subsidies only will continue, and possibly increase, in the future, as subsidies for the oil industry will be redirected to alternative fuels.
Regarding claims turbines will be abandoned 15 years down the road, Lundberg said it’s not likely companies will walk away from wind developments because equipment gets old. What is likely is that as developments age, they will be retrofitted with new turbines, he said, adding new turbines means new tax revenue.
Q: Who are the Citizens for Wind Energy (CWE) and Residents Against Wind (RAW) in Huron County?
A. CWE is a ballot question committee formed June 24 and registered with the Michigan Secretary of State June 25. The group’s website, citizensforwindenergy.com, states the coalition was formed to promote benefits of wind energy in Huron County.
CWE’s steering committee consists of Yvonne Bushey, Thomas Ziel, Chairman Scott Krohn, Bruce Bauer, Keith Iseler, Randy Elenbaum, Blaine Buchholz, Gil Tinsey and Ted Leipprandt.
The committee’s treasurer is Mary Doster, of Mason, and the committee’s mailing address is P.O. Box 162, Bad Axe, MI 48413. The committee’s phone number is (517) 525-4994, according to the committee’s Michigan Committee Statement of Organization filed June 25.
Bushey said it’s important that people know what they’re voting on in the two proposals.
“People should understand the issue of what they’re voting on,” she said. “Some think it’s to change the ordinance that the county’s written, and I think that’s what’s confusing to some people. My advice is vote yes for 1 and 2.”
According to a statement of organization RAW in Huron County filed in the Huron County Clerk’s Office, RAW in Huron County was formed Sept. 9. The committee’s mailing address is P.O. Box 2044, Caseville, MI 48725. It’s street address is 5268 Dufty Road, which is in Lake Township.
RAW in Huron County basically consists of members of Know Wind, Korleski said. Know Wind is an organization previously established in opposition to large scale industrial wind development.
“This issue is about saving Huron County from a disaster, unfortunately caused by outsiders and some Huron County residents,” Korleski said.
Korleski, an Elk Grove Village, Ill. resident who was born and raised in Kinde, said he was asked to be the organization’s spokesperson “to discuss the obscenity of the wind turbine scheme in Huron County.”
When asked why the group does not have a full-time Huron County resident as its spokesperson, Korleski said, “I spent my first 17 years working my father’s farm in Huron County, and I have a very large stake in what happens up there. If anyone wants to (question) me as a resident, as to what I have put into the farm all these years and who I am in terms of character and productivity, and that I am wishing to speak on behalf of concrete issues versus incredible smoke produced by the powers and self-serving signees, give me a call at (708) 431-1709.”
The bottom line:
• The Nov. 2 ballot proposals are asking voters to confirm the creation of two wind districts, one in McKinley Township and another in portions of Bloomfield, Sigel and Rubicon townships.
• Voting ‘yes’ will not mean wind developments will be built there. Any development in those districts will need further approval during the site plan review process.
• Voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will not allow or ban turbines in other areas of the county’s zoning jurisdiction. If someone wanted to develop a wind farm in another part of the county, a wind district would have to be created first.
• Voters living outside of cities/villages in any of the 14 townships under county zoning can vote on the proposals. Voters living in cities and villages cannot vote on the proposals, nor can voters in townships that are not under county zoning.
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