Windmill discussions continue in Ogemaw County; West Branch Township follows county with six-month moratorium
WEST BRANCH – The discussion of bringing wind turbines to Ogemaw County continued Tuesday, June 9, at the county’s Board of Commissioners meeting, with proponents of the construction of the turbines asking the county to lift its six-month moratorium, or shorten it to two months.
No decisions were made to lift or shorten the moratorium.
The night before, the West Branch Township board voted unanimously to follow in the county’s lead and approve a six-month moratorium on the construction of windmills in its township as well.
West Branch Township Clerk Margaret Winslow reported that it was on the recommendation of the township’s planning commission, in order to gather more information and investigate some of the possible downfalls of wind turbines.
West Branch Township Supervisor Jay Spaulding said he agreed with the need to get more information.
“The thing we’re a little concerned about is when you end up with a foundation that’s even half the size of this building (the township hall), and most of it would be left in the ground if that tower is abandoned, or if they find it really isn’t economical in this area, the fact that the state and federal government did a wind study that does not put Ogemaw County in that light, and the fact that most of our information has been coming from the developer,” Spaulding said. “The planning commission would really like to have an objective engineering firm that can give us both sides of it, and we don’t have to worry about whether it’s heresy, or old wives tales, or whatever it is.”
Township Trustee Sue Delahanty said that Economic Development Corporation Director Kathy Adair has suggested pulling in some experts through Michigan State University who have experience with the issue, rather than hiring an independent engineer.
“Other communities have dealt with this problem, have already been in the throws of it, and seen some of the shortfalls,” Delahanty said. “So there’s no reason for us to contact a private engineering firm and reinvent the wheel, when we could put something together that could be cohesive for the whole entire county, which makes more sense.”
Delahanty said that way there won’t be different fees and different requirements within West Branch Township than through the rest of the county.
The county passed a six-month moratorium on future wind turbine projects at its May 26 meeting, to give its planning commission more time to come up with an ordinance for wind turbine projects.
Steve Smiley, president of Smiley Energy Services, the company planning to build wind turbines in Ogemaw County, was at the county’s June 9 meeting to ask the county to either lift the six-month moratorium, or to reduce it to only two months.
Smiley said he needs to break ground on the projects prior to the end of the year in order to be guaranteed a 30 percent investment tax credit that goes directly against the project, which he said is what makes them economically feasible.
“It’s not easy doing wind power, so all of the delays we face and hurdles we face make it more challenging,” Smiley said.
He told the board that the six-month moratorium would make it impossible for him to begin the projects early enough to secure that tax credit.
“Under the federal stimulus law requirements for the 30 percent investment tax credit, if we can’t proceed by the end of this year, we’re likely to lose that. We don’t know. There’s maybe a small chance that could be extended, but we would likely lose it in the economics, and it would be very difficult without that.”
Commissioner Bruce Reetz made a motion during the meeting to reduce the length of the moratorium to two months, however proper procedure required that the original motion for the six-month moratorium be rescinded prior to a new motion. The board then decided the best decision was to leave the length of the moratorium at six months.
“The moratorium was put on to give the planning commission time to get the ordinance in place,” said Commissioner Greg Illig. “So whether we make it two months or six months or what, we’re not going to change the moratorium. We can add onto it or take away from it. We’re going to wait for the planning commission no matter what. To me, it doesn’t make any difference.
“I think that lifting the six-month moratorium and going to a two-month moratorium is sort of a knee-jerk reaction today,” said Commissioner Pete Hennard. “I would like to lift the moratorium after the planning commission rewrites the moratorium to what we’re looking for. As soon as the planning commission comes up with an ordinance that works for Ogemaw County, then I would, in a heartbeat, lift the six-month moratorium.”
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