BAD AXE – Huron County commissioners discussed not one, but two, resolutions that would institute a moratorium on future wind districts.
And while one was voted down during a five-hour meeting Tuesday, the fate of the second remains up in the air as commissioners suspended discussion until the board’s next regular meeting.
That resolution would impose a moratorium on any new wind overlay districts until the State of Michigan makes a determination regarding the various proposals to eliminate the personal property tax.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Ron Wruble said he asked Corporation Counsel Stephen J. Allen to prepare the resolution, and asked Commissioner John Bodis, who chairs the Legislative Committee, to introduce the resolution through his committee.
Wruble said the issue of wind energy is a very contentious one that has caused a lot of dissension. However, the weighing factor in the debate has been the county-wide benefit resulting from the tax revenue from wind developments.
Losing that benefit for all residents “scares the hell out of me,” Wruble said.
He said developers go into a project with a sense of certainty about their investment. However, they’re asking the county to approve these projects when it’s unknown, from the county’s standpoint, what things will look like six months down the road. There’s no certainty that Lansing is even hearing what the county is saying in regard to its concerns about the elimination of the personal property tax, Wruble said.
He noted he wished he wasn’t in this spot, but he’s doing what he feels is in the best interest of the county.
Wruble stressed he’s not anti-wind, he just wants to see everyone benefit from wind developments and this resolution imposing the moratorium until the uncertainty about the personal property tax is gone.
Commissioner Steve Vaughan called the resolution discriminatory, and noted that if there’s going to be a moratorium, it should be on any and all developments that pay commercial and industrial personal property tax – not just on wind developments.
Allen said the resolution is not discriminatory. He explained there is going to be a proliferation of wind turbines in Huron County in the future, and the elimination of the personal property tax is a very real threat. If the personal property tax is eliminated without any kind of replacement revenue, the county will lose the revenue it originally anticipated to collect from wind developments, he said.
Both Allen and Wruble said they suspect some voters who voted to approve the creation of two new wind districts during last November’s general election did so because of the revenue the county would receive.
Now, the state is changing the rules, Allen said. He said if the state eliminates the personal property tax without a replacement, it will undermine the decision made by those voters who voted in favor of the wind districts because of the tax revenue that would be realized from future wind developments.
In regard to the moratorium, Allen said the board is doing something all elected officials would consider by asking what it can do in the face of such uncertainty.
“It would be a windfall – no pun intended – if the state would get off its tush and make a decision,” he said.
Allen acknowledged that the county can’t prohibit development. However, in this instance, there currently are five wind overlay districts in existence. Projects in those areas will be able to move forward even if the proposed moratorium is approved.
Projects that are currently in the works in the existing wind districts include two projects by DTE Energy (Sigel and McKinley wind farms), one by Geronimo Wind Energy (Apple Blossom Wind Farm), another by Exelon Wind (Harvest Wind II), and another by RES Americas (Pheasant Run Wind Farm).
However, RES Americas is planning a development, Deerfield Wind Farm, in the northeast portion of county. RES Americas already has submitted an application for a wind overlay district for that project, and it’s on the agenda for the planning commission’s Oct. 5 meeting.
Developers oppose moratorium
Rodger A. Kershner, a Royal Oak attorney from Howard & Howard, which is the law firm representing RES Americas, cautioned commissioners that for every action there’s a consequence. Given the competitive industry and the fact that the state’s renewable portfolio standard requires utilities provide at least 10 percent of their power from renewable energy resources by 2015, “time matters,” Kershner said. He said a delay in any given project could mean the project dies. As a result, doing nothing could result in multi-million dollar consequences, not just to developers and landowners, but to the county as well.
Kershner said there have been many instances where local government units have had to pay large sums of money when they have deprived someone of a valuable opportunity.
RES Americas Development Manager Brad Lila told commissioners RES has no problems paying personal property taxes. He said the company submitted the application for the Deerfield Wind Farm wind overlay district in September 2010. Since then, two other wind district applications have been submitted and approved. He said RES isn’t asking for preferential treatment: Just a fair shake and to be treated like everyone else.
DTE Energy Regional Manager Ron Chriss said a moratorium would be reacting to a perceived legislative threat. He acknowledged lawmakers in Lansing are talking about eliminating a personal property tax. However, the personal property tax raises $1.2 billion, and it would be foolish to eliminate it with no replacement, Chriss said.
He said imposing a moratorium is jumping the gun.
Charlie Dam, director of development for Geronimo Wind Energy, said putting a moratorium in place could guarantee the county will not get any of the tax revenue it originally anticipated because there won’t be as many developments as originally anticipated.
Stopping activity will ensure no income will come into the county, he said.
Doug Duimering, regional manager of business development for Exelon Wind, said there shouldn’t be a link between zoning/land use and taxation. He encouraged commissioners to take this issue up with the state.
He said Exelon’s not opposed to paying local taxes and its wind developments have created jobs. For example, Harvest Wind 1 in Elkton has created six full-time jobs and Michigan Wind 1 in Ubly has created seven full-time jobs. Exelon also pays a significant amount of money to landowners, and in 2010, the company paid $1 million in local taxes for the two projects.
The wind developers stressed that no matter what, there will be a replacement put in place in the event the personal property tax is eliminated and imposing a moratorium won’t affect that as much as it will send a negative image about Huron County and wind. Huron County will look anti-wind, rather than as an advocate for changes to the tax code, Duimering said.
Second resolution calls for moratorium until noise issues investigated
The resolution that was voted down Tuesday would have instituted a moratorium on new wind developments until the planning commission completes an investigation into a new study that calls for more strict regulations on noise levels. The credibility of the study was questioned and in the end, the only vote in support of the resolution was cast by District 2 Commissioner David Peruski, who represents Bingham, Grant, Paris, Sheridan and Sherman Townships.
Michigan Wind 1 is located within that district and has had a number of complaints from nearby residents. Regardless of whether the board agrees with the study, Peruski said, the noise issue has to be looked into because in addition to numerous complaints, there has been a lawsuit filed by disgruntled residents against wind developers, and the county is lucky it wasn’t named in the lawsuit.
Peruski said the resolution only would refer the issue to the planning commission to look into, and a moratorium was attached to it because it adds some weight to the referral.
Both Huron County Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith, and Russ Lundberg, the county’s former building and zoning director who now serves as an adviser to that office, opposed both resolutions, noting there already is a process in place in the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act to make amendments. Lundberg said a moratorium is not a process in the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act.
Vaughan also felt a moratorium is not the proper procedure to follow. Commissioner John Nugent said if the noise requirements in the county’s ordinance need revising, the county should follow the process in the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act.
Commissioner John Horny was a vocal opponent of any kind of moratorium.
“Any moratoriums are out of place and should not be tolerated,” he said. “ … It’s full speed ahead – it’s not one step forward and two steps back.”
Claim some county officials being anti-wind
With the exception of one person, those in attendance at Tuesday’s Huron County Board of Commissioners meeting were wind developers and local residents who are part of Citizens for Wind Energy, which is a nonprofit group dedicated to raising awareness and support for wind energy in Huron County.
They opposed the moratorium, and Wruble came under fire from some who claimed this was an attempt to stop the progress of wind developments in Huron County.
He denied this and challenged them to look at his voting record. Up until the uncertainty regarding the personal property tax, Wruble has consistently voted for wind developments.
He’s worked with the Thumb Regional Renewable Energy Collaborative (TRREC), which is a regional coalition that was formed about two years ago in efforts to educate taxing units about the value of wind development and what it can mean to communities. TRREC Member Mike Krause said he believes Wruble is concerned about the community as a whole.
“That’s his whole objective. He’s in a tough position and he’s doing what’s right for the whole community,” Krause said, noting Wruble, as well as most of the county commissioners, are looking out for the county-wide benefit. “… There’s confusion (about the personal property tax) and we’re trying to clarify it. We’re not anti-wind – we think it can bring a lot of benefit to the community.”
Krause noted he feels for the developers because they need to keep their projects moving forward. At the same time, he feels for the board of commissioners because they’re trying to do what’s right for the whole community, and people shouldn’t be pointing fingers.
“We all need to get together and work out a solution that works for everybody,” he said.
Jim McLoskey, district representative for 31st District State Sen. Mike Green, was at Tuesday’s meeting, and said he will arrange a meeting between commissioners, wind developers and Green.
The Huron County Board of Commissioners is expected to resume discussion regarding the resolution that wasn’t voted down during Tuesday’s meeting on Sept. 27.
In the meantime, Wruble encourages constituents contact their respective commissioners and give them their opinion on this issue. Contact information for each of the seven Huron County commissioners is available by calling (989) 269-8242 or visiting www.co.huron.mi.us.
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