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Planning commission OKs McKinley, Sigel wind farms

BAD AXE – Providing the $1 million decommissioning bonds that DTE Energy procured for its proposed McKinley and Sigel wind farms is approved by the county, the utility is set to proceed with obtaining building permits and beginning construction.

During a public hearing Wednesday, the Huron County Planning Commission wrapped up the site plan review process.

The board approved allowing the utility to proceed with developing the two wind farms, so long as Huron County Corporation Counsel Steve Allen reviews the decommissioning bonds and determines they will satisfy the needs of Huron County.

Also, the approval was contingent on the developer being willing to renegotiate the decommissioning bond amount every five years from the date that the wind farms are constructed.

“The bond’s the most critical issue here,” said Huron County Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith.

The county’s wind energy ordinance requires developers have a decommissioning plan that describes how a wind project will be disposed of once it reaches the end of its useful life.

The ordinance also requires developers set aside funds in the form of a performance bond or equivalent financial instrument that the county can use in the event the developer’s decommissioning plan needs to be enforced with respect to tower removal, site restoration, etc.

The whole point is to ensure there are funds set aside in the event a wind park were to cease operating. The ordinance requires that the bond be in favor of Huron County, and that the bond be in the amount of at least $1 million.

The bond also must contain a replenishment obligation, meaning the county would be reimbursed for any cost over the $1 million (or other amount listed in the original performance bond), if the cost to decommission the project exceeds the amount posted in the bond or other financial instrument.

David Peruski – who serves on the Huron County Board of Commissioners and represents District 2, which includes the Ubly area – asked the planning commission to take particular care in enforcing this part of the ordinance. He said back when Noble Environmental Power was developing the Michigan Wind I farm in Ubly, there was no funding in place to be used in the event the wind park were to cease operating.

Officials previously explained the plan for that park is to get the decommissioning funding about 15 years after the project was constructed.

The ordinance was amended to include the bond requirement and decommissioning plan in May 2011, which was after Michigan Wind 1 was constructed.

Matt Wagner, DTE Energy Wind Site Development manager, told the Tribune that DTE secured the bonds prior to Wednesday’s public hearing in efforts to be proactive.

By doing so, he hoped it proved the utility’s worth the risk and would allow the projects to proceed.

In two separate public hearings in September, DTE officials presented Part 1 of the site plan review applications for the two parks and received conditional approval to proceed with preliminary work, such as constructing driveways and access roads.

DTE presented Part 2 – the final portion – of its site plan review application during Wednesday’s public hearing.

The bulk of the discussion was in regard to DTE’s decommissioning plan. Planning commission members were particularly interested in ensuring that the bond is in favor of the county.

That’s why the board voted to have Allen review the matter. The review also will include Smith and members of the Huron County Board of Commissioners Finance Committee and, possibly, members of the Legislative Committee, the Huron County treasurer and bond company officials, Smith said.

He said in addition having the review result in a satisfactory conclusion, DTE also has to file some other final paperwork before a building permit is issued.

In the meantime, DTE is able to proceed in constructing driveways and access drives, Smith said. A building permit for foundations won’t be issued until the bond is approved.

While DTE does not intend to construct any towers until next summer, the company was hoping to begin digging and pouring foundations in early December, Wagner said.

The McKinley Wind Farm project area consists of 2,384 acres that are, generally, bound by Campbell, Gagetown, Filion and Caseville roads, Wagner previously explained. The project is four sections in size, and there will be two to three turbines per section.

The Sigel Wind Farm will consist of a maximum of 44 General Electric 1.6 megawatt turbines.

There are 11,400 acres within the project boundary, which is, generally, bounded by MacDonald, Dobson, Finkel and Sand Beach roads. The typical turbine density will be two to three turbines per section.