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McKinley Wind Farm nets conditional approval

BAD AXE – The Huron County Planning Commission has granted DTE Energy conditional approval for the DTE McKinley Wind Farm.

The wind farm will consist of nine General Electric turbines, said DTE Energy Wind Site Development Manager Matt Wagner during a special planning commission meeting Thursday. He said there are 2,384 acres within the boundary, which generally is bound by Campbell, Gagetown, Filion and Caseville roads.

Within that area, 100 percent of the agricultural landowners and 70 percent of the smaller landowners are participating, Wagner said.

He said the project is four sections in size, and there will be two to three turbines per section.

Says noise, setbacks comply

with ordinance

Wagner said the project will be well within the ordinance’s setback requirements, which prohibit siting turbines any closer than 1,320 feet from a non-participating landowner dwelling and 1,000 feet from a participating landowner dwelling.

The closest turbine distance to a non-participating dwelling is 1,461 feet, and the average distance from a non-participating dwelling is 2,208 feet, Wagner said. The closest turbine distance to a participating residence is 1,202 feet.

Regarding noise, Wagner said the turbines will be audible at times, but the project will be in compliance with the noise ordinance, which prohibits turbine noise levels from exceeding 50 dBA from a participating parcel and 45 dBA from a non-participating parcel.

More noise modeling will be done after the project is constructed, Wagner said.

Other data DTE has collected shows it’s anticipated the project will not interfere with television stations or AM/FM radio. However, if there is interference, DTE will address verifiable concerns, Wagner said.

Discuss proximity to shoreline

Planning commissioners questioned whether the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will hold fast to its recommendation that wind developments not be constructed within 3 miles of the shoreline.

Wagner said the USFWS thinks 3 miles is a good standard, but it’s willing to accept a location closer to the shoreline if data proves it won’t cause harm.

He said DTE Energy has collected a lot of data that shows this project – of which the closest turbine to the shoreline is 2.9 miles away – will not cause harm.

DTE officials also noted the project area is adjacent to two other projects that are being developed, and DTE is siting turbines in a way that it won’t impact the other projects.

Mull over other

impacts, plans

The planning commission reviewed information DTE submitted from its avian (bird and bat) studies, which looked at the entire west side of Huron County. Wagner said the data shows the project will not significantly affect local or migrating wildlife. The studies were done in consultation with the USFWS and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, he said. Also, DTE is willing to conduct another wildlife assessment study after the wind farm is constructed.

Regarding wetlands, Wagner said the objective is to minimize wetlands disturbance.

Though it’s not required by the ordinance, he said DTE did study shadow flicker, which is the shadow cast from whirling turbine blades. The modeling indicates flicker will remain below the typical maximum limit of 30 hours per year. That modeling was done on the assumption it is sunny 24 hours a day, Wagner added.

He also discussed site security – which will be provided by fencing, signs and locked turbine tower doors – and decommissioning plans. He said DTE will provide financial assurance in an acceptable form to Huron County for the decommissioning cost prior to applying for building permits for turbine construction.

Wagner also outlined DTE’s complaint resolution process, which includes a 24 hour toll free complaint line. All complaints will be investigated within 21 days and complaint descriptions will be forwarded to the county. He said DTE will hold a public meeting to review the complaint process before the wind farm is opened.

To begin preliminary

work on wind farm

Wagner said the conditional approval indicates the planning commission’s acceptance of the project to the extent that work can begin on access roads and other preliminary facilities, such as connection lines. That work will only proceed if DTE can get permission from the Huron County Road Commission.

Thursday’s special meeting was held to undertake the site plan review process that’s required by the county’s wind ordinance. The first step in creating a wind development is to get a wind overlay district in the proposed project area.

The McKinley Wind Farm wind district was approved by the Huron County Board of Commissioners in July 2010. The wind district wasn’t officially created, however, until after the November 2010 election. That’s because a petition was filed seeking a voter referendum. Voters approved the creation of the McKinley wind district.

Once a wind district is created, developers are required to create a site plan that meets all the ordinance’s requirements in order to create a wind farm. After holding a site plan review, if the site plan meets all the ordinance’s requirements, the planning commission makes a recommendation to the Huron County Board of Commissioners to approve the site plan. Once the Huron County Board of Commissioners grants final approval, developers can proceed with constructing the wind farm.

Following the planning commission’s unanimous vote in favor of granting DTE conditional approval, the matter now will go to the board of commissioners for final approval.

Part 2 coming this fall

DTE’s site plan review is being done two parts. Part 1 was held Thursday night. Wagner said DTE expects to submit Part 2 in late September or early October.

He explained the reason DTE Energy wanted to do the site plan review in two phases is because the company wants to get some preliminary work – like the installation of access roads and connection lines – started this fall.

Wagner said he expects turbine foundations will be constructed next spring and turbines will arrive before fall 2012. The wind farm is expected to be operational by the end of 2012.

He said sometimes people think developers set up a wind farm and the leave the area. That won’t be the case with McKinley Wind Farm because DTE’s the local area’s utility, and the company will be around as the wind farm is developed and in operation, Wagner said.