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County wants guarantees before it OKs wind deal  

Credit:  By Kate Hessling, Assistant News Editor, Huron Daily Tribune, www.michigansthumb.com 7 April 2012 ~~

BAD AXE – Exelon Wind officials told the county planning commission this week they will soon submit documents that assure there will be funds available in the event turbines from a new wind farm need to be taken down after the project no longer is in operation.

The county’s ordinance requires wind developers meet decommissioning requirements so the county doesn’t get stuck with a bill in the event a wind farm is some day abandoned.

In an effort to get building permits for portions its 33-turbine Harvest Wind II project, Exelon officials were at Wednesday’s Huron County Planning Commission meeting to seek conditional site plan approval for the portion of the project in McKinley Township. The majority of the project will be in Oliver and Chandler townships, which are self-zoned so approval in those areas are needed by the township boards.

Fred Hasen, chairman of the Huron County Planning Commission, stressed no building permits will be issued until all planners have reviewed the decommissioning documents and are satisfied they protect the county.

Exelon officials told county planners the company will follow the same format set by DTE Energy, which included a third-party surety bond as well as a corporate guarantee. Exelon officials said the financial assurance it originally offered for its project is the same that the company used in other projects. However, it’s not acceptable to the county and the company understands that.

Therefore, it will draft a surety bond for $200,000 per turbine, as well as a corporate guarantee, which will pay for any costs exceeding $200,000 in the event the turbines have to be taken down and the cost of doing so exceeds $200,000 per turbine.

Over about the past year, there have been concerns from county officials and residents regarding possible decommissioning.

Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith said the way the financial assurance was set up with DTE Energy, the county wouldn’t be liable for decommissioning costs. The same goes for Exelon Wind, if it follows DTE’s format.

“The county is held harmless,” he said, noting DTE has set the bar for other wind developers by providing a surety bond and corporate guarantee.

Smith said the county is being diligent in terms of its decommissioning requirements.

“The planning commission, corporate counsel and board of commissioners are working hard to make sure we get this right for the future of the projects,” he said.

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, the planning commission granted a motion to move the proposed location of one of Exelon’s turbines in McKinley Township. Exelon officials explained the company needs to move the location of seven turbines in the project area because of farm tile mains and soil conditions. The planning commission’s approval was contingent on the fact that Exelon obtains tall structure permits from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Exelon also has to submit a finalized route for transporting turbines to the project site. Exelon officials noted there has been some difficulty in nailing down a route because of proposed bridge work from the Michigan Department of Transportation. Smith said the company tried to submit alternative routes, however, everything’s dependent on approval from the Michigan Department of Transportation and Huron County Road Commission.

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, the board discussed a letter from RES Americas, which wants to expand its Pheasant Run Wind Energy Overlay District to include additional property in Sebewaing and Grant townships. The project rests in portions of Grant, Oliver, Winsor, Fairhaven, Sebewaing and Brookfield townships. But not all the areas are included in the wind district the county approved last April. In Sebewaing, the township previously was self-zoned and did not have a wind energy zoning ordinance. Now that the township is included in the county’s zoning jurisdiction, RES will apply for wind energy district zoning in portions of Sebewaing Township, as well as an additional half-section of property in Grant Township.

The planning commission tentatively set a public hearing for May to garner public feedback on the matter, provided RES submits its application in time for the hearing to be held.

In other business during Wednesday’s meeting, planners:

• Discussed the status of the zoning amendment that would include Brookfield Township under county zoning. Officials noted things are on hold because a notice of intent has been filed by the township’s zoning administrator who is seeking a ballot referendum on the matter. The notice listed the amendment the township passed that would abolish its zoning. If a petition is filed with a valid number of signatures and it’s deemed adequate by the township clerk, an election will have to be held either during the next general election or by an election set by the township. In the meantime, officials noted, the township’s zoning ordinance is in effect. But there were concerns that its planning commission is defunct because of a number of resignations and a lack of interest in residents willing to serve on the board. Smith noted even without an active planning commission, the township’s zoning still is in effect and if residents need a site permit for construction, they can go to their township zoning administrator to conduct their business.

• Elected the board’s officers, including Fred Hasen as chairman, Bernie Creguer as vice chairman and Ervin Haley as secretary.

• Approved a request from Farm Crest Foods in Winsor Township to demolish an existing 57-foot by 491.5-foot chicken coop and replace it with a 69.5-foot by 444-foot chicken coop with 24-foot sidewalls.

• Voted to approve a request from Thompson Chevrolet Inc. in Bingham Township to renovate the existing service department into a wash/prep area, parts and service area and service reception area. The project includes constructing a 75-foot by 100-foot service department onto the west side of the current building. Planners were under the impression the renovation is something the business has to do in order to keep its dealership. Smith noted he expects other dealerships will be applying to do similar renovations.

• Approved a request by Blue Diamond Steel Castings to construct a bathroom/lunch room/locker room on an addition that was approved last year.

• Concurred with proposed ordinance amendments the Lake Township Planning Commission asked the county board to review. The amendments pertain to ordinances regulating use of mobile homes and recreational equipment, and waterfront easements.

Officials noted there was a lot of public comment submitted in correspondence, particularly relating to the proposed repeal of beach easement zoning.

“They want to repeal the entire section (regulating) waterfront easements,” Smith said, noting some correspondence was for the amendments, and others were against it.

Jeff Krohn, a new member of the county planning commission who had served on the Lake Township Planning Commission while the amendments were being drafted, said the township feels it doesn’t have any zoning jurisdiction over easements. He said beach easements are framed by associations, which have bylaws pertaining to the use of easements. Also, he said, the township feels it doesn’t have any jurisdiction in the waters, and can’t regulate things such as how boat hoists are lined up.

The county planning commission’s next regular meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. May 2 in Room 305 of the County Building.

Source:  By Kate Hessling, Assistant News Editor, Huron Daily Tribune, www.michigansthumb.com 7 April 2012

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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