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Commissioners OK Deerfield wind district

BAD AXE – The Huron County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved the creation of the Deerfield Wind Energy Overlay District, which could host up to 100 wind turbines in the northeast portion of the county.

During the board’s Oct. 11 meeting, commissioners suspended discussion on a resolution approving the district after a lengthy discussion between the board, developers and concerned residents, some of which were in favor of and others were opposed to new wind developments. Commissioners refrained from voting because not all commissioners were present at the Oct. 11 meeting.

During Tuesday’s meeting, all were present and the board heard a presentation from Development Manager Brad Lila, of RES Americas, which applied for the Deerfield Wind district Sept. 9, 2010.

Since that time, the county’s approved a number of new wind districts, Lila said. He noted nothing about this project is different from the others that have been approved. Like the others, the project meets all the requirements in the ordinance to get a wind district approved.

Lila said he realizes the future of the personal property tax is a big issue. The personal property tax is the only tax local units of government receive from wind developments. RES Americas is doing everything possible to resolve this issue, including giving testimony during Senate committee hearings and meeting with other lawmakers in Lansing, Lila said.

He said RES is being very conservative in its turbine setback distances from homes. He said it’s company policy to site turbines at least 500 meters (1,640 feet) away from all homes, regardless of whether they are on participating or non-participating parcels. The county’s ordinance requires turbines be sited at least 1,000 feet from participating inhabited dwellings and 1,320 feet from non-participating dwellings.

Regarding concerns some commissioners have expressed about keeping turbines away from the shoreline, Lila said RES obtained some leases in Gore Township, but the developer didn’t include any of those parcels in its project area because of the township’s proximity to the shoreline. He said the project area is not within 3 miles of the shoreline.

There were a number of individuals at Tuesday’s meeting in support of RES Americas, though Lila made it clear RES did not ask them to attend on the developer’s behalf.

Mark Schauer, business development representative for Michigan LECET, which connects laborers (both union and general contractor) with construction jobs, said the wind energy industry is a legitimate energy that’s created hundreds of jobs in the local community. He urged the board to be cautious about lowering tower heights and changing setbacks that will literally put a halt to the wind energy industry in Huron County.

Schauer previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives and Michigan Senate, where he voted for the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard, which requires utility companies generate 10 percent of the power from renewable sources by 2015.

He said while wind developments occasionally involve controversy, the board shouldn’t discount jobs and tax benefits wind developments create.

A local representative from Rooney Contracting said the company directly benefited by wind farm developments as it saw an increase from five to 32 crane service employees and seven to 22 employees on the contracting side of the business.

He said local contractors provided every yard of material for the wind developments in Minden City and Ubly, and he hopes the board would take that into consideration before it shuts down any projects.

A business agent from Laborers Local Union 1098 in Saginaw said the union has supplied labor to get wind parks up and running, and wind developments have helped both businesses and taxes, in addition to local units of government, during tough economic times.

Huron Township Supervisor Bill Haas explained the Deerfield Wind Farm came about after 80 to 90 landowners in the project area got together to research wind energy and wind developers. Because of those efforts, people in that area are pretty informed and there’s very little controversy, he said.

Haas said the project is a good example of a community working together.

“It was a very positive experience,” he said.

He stressed RES did not seek out the landowners. Rather, the township sought out RES.

Haas said Huron Township wants the county to do everything it can to move this project forward.

Not all were in favor of the board approving the wind district. Some were concerned by how taller turbine towers will change the landscape. Also, they wanted to see the county revise its ordinance to address issues such as noise and setbacks. Other concerns included the price of wind energy the fact that wind developments receive federal subsidies, and rate payers have to pay extra on their utility bills to help pay for wind developments.

“It’s just a boondoggle,” said Minden City resident Robert McLean.

But wind proponents argued the gas and oil industry always have, and continues to, receive federal subsidies. Matt Wagner, of DTE Energy, said people need to understand rates are heavily scrutinized, and it’s not as easy as “passing on” the costs on to rate payers.

In the end, Lila’s presentation, along with the report from Haas, helped make a number of commissioners more comfortable with approving the wind district. The board voted to approve district by a 6 yes to 1 no vote. Commissioner David Peruski cast the dissenting vote.

The Deerfield Wind district consists of about 24,000 acres and has 220 participating landowners in Dwight, Lincoln, Bloomfield and Huron townships. It is the second project RES Americas is developing in Huron County. The wind district for the other project – Pheasant Run Wind Farm, which is located on the southwestern portion of the county – was approved in April.