BAD AXE – Representatives from two companies that have been working on projects in the Thumb cautioned Huron County commissioners against “putting the brakes” on future wind developments until taxation issues are worked out in Lansing.
Both David Shiflett, of Geronimo Wind Energy, LLC, and Mike Serafin, of DTE Energy, said they were at Tuesday’s Huron County Board of Commissioners meeting in reaction to news reports of the board’s meeting of the whole last week, where officials discussed putting a halt to new wind developments until tax issues are resolved by lawmakers in Lansing.
Shiflett said Commissioner John Bodis, who heads the Legislative Committee, has been staying on top of proposed legislation at the state level, and until there is legislation on the floor of either the House or Senate, Shiflett urged the county to cautiously move forward with wind development.
He said his firm certainly supports local development and would entertain discussion pertaining to local compensation. However, he said, it’s going to be a long time before this issue is dealt with in Lansing, and Shiflett asked the county to consider new projects that are being put on the table.
Serafin said staff in DTE’s Lansing office who have been investigating the issue found there is little indication lawmakers and the governor’s office are focused on eliminating the personal property tax, which is the only tax wind companies pay for wind turbines. The main focus is on the budget, Serafin said.
But, he added, DTE is willing to meet with county commissioners, State Sen. Mike Green (R-Mayville) and State Rep. Kurt E. Damrow (R-Port Austin) regarding this issue.
“We share the county’s concern on this issue,” he said, noting this issue doesn’t just impact DTE’s customers in Huron County, it impacts all of its customers across the state.
Commissioner John Nugent asked Serafin whether DTE Energy has taken a position regarding this issue.
Serafin said it’s too early in the legislative process to say anything. He explained DTE Energy addresses issues at key leverage points, and things haven’t progressed to a key leverage point at this time.
However, he said, DTE is happy to meet with county officials to discuss this issue.
During last week’s meeting of the whole, it was noted “putting the brakes” on future developments may help get developers to pressure state lawmakers to get this issue resolved.
In a post-meeting interview on Tuesday, Wruble said despite statements indicating otherwise, there currently is a strong backing in Lansing to repeal the personal property tax.
“I don’t think that it’s an issue of if, I think it’s an issue of when, and we need to have something etched in stone, so to speak, before that occurs so we’re not hanging out there,” he said. “ … (And) we need to have the wind industry lobbying for the same thing we want – if they’re truly partners with us.”
Wruble added he’s been hearing the same response in other areas of the state.
“I think we’re maybe a little ahead of the game, but the same sentiment is out there from other areas that are going to be having wind projects,” he said.
When asked whether having cooperation from developers will help prevent the issue of how wind turbines are taxed from getting lost in the overall debate of eliminating personal property, Wruble said, “We’re going to do what we can to keep it on the forefront, for sure. For Huron County, we want to protect the interest of our people up here – and it’s not a tax grab or anything. We’re looking at the benefit it’s going to be for the people of the county. So we need to have that out in the forefront.”
He added: “Nothing’s going to be perfect, but we need to get some place where we’re more comfortable than we are right now with this personal property tax.”
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