BAD AXE – A Lincoln Township resident filed a notice of intent Thursday to file a petition to put the Deerfield Wind Energy Overlay District up for a vote of the people within the county’s zoning jurisdiction.
The Huron County Board of Commissioners approved the wind district, which could host up to 100 wind turbines in the northeast portion of the county, on Oct. 25. The district was requested by RES Americas, which is planning two wind developments in the Thumb.
RES Americas applied for the district in September 2010, and encountered some difficulty in getting it approved. There were some county commissioners who were hesitant to approve new wind districts until certain areas of the county’s wind ordinance were amended and uncertainty regarding the personal property tax was resolved at the state level.
But after meeting with RES Americas Development Manager Brad Lila and Huron Township Supervisor Bill Haas late last month, the majority of the board felt comfortable with approving the wind district.
The debate over whether to approve the district, or any other new districts until the wind ordinance is reviewed and the personal property tax issue is resolved, spanned more than two months in a series of meetings that were attended by wind energy developers and proponents and opponents to new wind developments.
Carl Duda, who filed the notice of intent on Thursday, was one of those opposed to the new wind district. He has shared concerns with a group he is working with in efforts to get the referendum on ballot, he said. The group is similar to Residents Against Wind, which asked residents to vote no on the creation of the two wind districts that were on the November 2010 general election ballot.
Voters approved the two ballot proposals, 60 percent to 40 percent.
Duda said he filed the notice of intent to pick up where Mildred Duda, his cousin, left off last year. She was the one who filed the notice of intent to get the two proposals on the November 2010 ballot because she more or less felt people should have a right to vote on this issue, Carl Duda said.
He said those in favor of having the Deerfield wind district up for a vote feel that way because of a number of reasons. He cited concerns such as there being planning commissioners who have wind leases, and things that should be changed in the county’s wind ordinance. For example, he said, many feel the noise level in the ordinance is too high and there should be a different standard used to determine ambient noise levels. Also, he said, there are issues with the setbacks, which the group feels should be 1,320 feet from property lines, not homes. He said other concerns are that the wind developments haven’t created the jobs that were promised, and he questioned what will happen 10 to 15 years down the road when the turbines no longer work.
“If we continue putting these turbines up, Huron County will look like an industrial park – the whole county,” Carl Duda said.
He said another issue has to do with the efficiency of wind developments. He said wind turbines are expensive and will wear out 10 to 15 years down the road and only work a certain amount of time that weather conditions allow for. He said purchasing a wind turbine to produce electricity is like a farmer buying a large combine with a 30-foot grain head just to harvest 10 feet of land.
The above issues have been discussed during previous board of commissioners meetings over the past two months. During those meetings, wind proponents and developers have refuted those claims, saying wind developments have created jobs and investment in Huron County, and local governments have benefited from tax revenue from the developments. They disagreed with concerns that the ordinance’s setback distances and noise limits need to be revised, stating the county already has revised those items in the ordinance to provide further protections to residents.
Regarding what happens at the end of a turbine’s life, proponents have argued that the ordinance requires developers to set aside funds to pay to decommission the turbines (i.e. take them down). Also, developers have argued turbines will be replaced throughout the years.
Developers also have argued that turbines are becoming more efficient and wind energy is the most efficient way to reach the state’s requirement that 10 percent of the state’s electricity supply come from renewable energy.
Per the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, Carl Duda has 30 days from Oct. 28 (which is the date the zoning ordinance amendment creating the Deerfield Wind district was published) to file a signed petition containing the names of not less than 15 percent of the total number of individuals living in the zoning jurisdiction that voted during the last gubernatorial election.
According to the Huron County Clerk’s Office, there were 4,512 votes cast during the November 2010 gubernatorial election. So Carl Duda has to collect about 677 signatures from residents in the county’s jurisdiction within that 30-day window in order to get the matter on the ballot.
Carl Duda said he’s confident there will be enough signatures to put the matter on the ballot.
“I think the average person is more aware of what’s going on … now than they were a year ago,” he said, noting last year more than 900 signatures were collected to get the two wind proposals on the November 2010 ballot.
The Michigan Zoning Enabling Act states if a petition is filed, and it’s deemed adequate by the county clerk, voters will vote on the referendum at the next regular election or at a special election called for voting on the referendum.
Huron County Clerk Lori S. Neal-Wonsowicz said the next regular election will be the Republican presidential primary election, which is set for Feb. 28, 2012, according to the Michigan Secretary of State’s schedule of upcoming events.
As to the odds of voters voting against the district if a referendum gets on the ballot, Carl Duda said the big thing that matters is getting voters out. He said it’s always difficult to get people to come out and vote, but this issue is particularly challenging. That’s because a lot of voters living in the 14 townships that are within the county’s zoning jurisdiction have parents, grandparents, uncles, brothers and other relatives who have signed leases with wind companies for wind developments. Because of that, those people won’t vote against creating the districts, he said.
“I’ve seen that this last time. That will hurt us. They will sign the referendum, but they just won’t vote,” said Carl Duda, who added he feels the whole wind energy issue has created division within the county.
The Deerfield wind district consists of about 24,000 acres and has 220 participating landowners in Dwight, Lincoln, Bloomfield and Huron townships.
Only residents within the county’s zoning jurisdiction will be able to sign a petition and vote on the matter if a referendum gets on the election ballot. The 14 townships within the county’s zoning jurisdiction include Bingham, Bloomfield, Dwight, Fairhaven, Gore, Grant, Hume, Lincoln, McKinley, Rubicon, Sheridan, Sherman, Sigel and Winsor.