BAD AXE – In a 4-3 vote, the Huron County Board of Commissioners sent a message that it is sticking to a November letter to the county planning commission stating it will not act on any new wind turbine action until taxation issues are resolved.
“Let’s stick to our guns,” said Ron Wruble, who proposed the board pull a resolution from Tuesday’s agenda that sought the approval of an application to remove 26.33 acres in Winsor Township from farmland protection designation under Public Act 116.
“I feel like we’re wimping out,” replied Chairman Clark Elftman, who was one of the three commissioners to vote against pulling the resolution.
While the request doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with wind energy development, Wruble said that’s not the case.
The property is included in the Pheasant Run Wind overlay district, where NextEra Energy of Juno Beach, Fla., is developing a 150-megawatt wind farm. The section in question during Tuesday’s board meeting needs to be removed from PA 116 because project officials said it’s needed to accommodate substations for ITCTransmission and the wind development.
The Huron County Planning Commission previously unanimously recommended the board of commissioners approve the application, which was filed by ITCTransmission and NextEra Energy on behalf of the property owner, the Marilyn A. Elenbaum Trust.
Legal counsel from both ITC and NextEra told commissioners that the request is not for approval to build the project. Rather, it’s to release the land from the state’s farmland preservation incentive program.
Counsel explained ITC intends to purchase about 16 acres of the property, and NextEra wants to purchase the remaining land.
Officials noted the project is basically a joint endeavor, where NextEra will build two substations for phase one of the Pheasant Run Wind farm, which is expected to begin construction this summer pending a site plan review approval. ITC will then build a substation to facilitate the increased power from the wind park into the Thumb Loop transmission line that ITC currently is constructing.
But, before the trust can sell the parcels, a land division has to be approved and the land has to be removed from PA 116.
Wruble felt the request to release the land from PA 116 has to everything to do with wind energy, and he asked Corporate Counsel Steve Allen to read a letter the board sent the Huron County Planning Commission in November.
“With the instability, uncertainty and lack of direction related to the issues pertaining to wind energy throughout the State, the Huron County Board of Commissioners will not schedule any additional wind turbine action on the Board’s agenda until there is resolution to these issues,” the letter states.
The issues the letter refers to stem from fall 2011, when the state tax commission lowered the taxable value of wind turbines. Wind turbines went from a 100 percent assessment in year one, with a scheduled depreciation to 30 percent value in 15 years, to an 80 percent initial assessment, with a depreciation to 30 percent value in six years.
In September, Huron joined several other wind turbine-heavy counties in forming the Michigan Renewable Energy Collaborative to share legal costs related to tax value determinations.
“You’re going to send a message here,” Wruble warned commissioners in favor of acting on the resolution.
Commissioner Dave Peruski explained there are three courses of action the board could take in regard to the request. The board can approve it, and it will then go to the state for final approval. Secondly, it can deny the resolution, and the request will then be appealed to the Michigan Department of Agriculture, which will subsequently approve it. Lastly, the board can rescind a motion to approve the request and forward it to the state for final approval.
With the third option, the county basically would be telling the state that its waiving its right for a local review.
Peruski said with all three options, the state will have the final say for approval, and officials indicated it’s clear the state will approve the request.
A motion to go with option three was defeated 5-2. Elftman and Commissioner Steve Vaughan were the only ones to vote yes.
Wruble then cast a motion to have the board follow the spirit of the November letter, and refuse to take any action on the request.
Legal counsel from NextEra explained that if that happens, then the company will be able to seek approval from the state 45 days after the county received the request. As a result, it’s not anticipated that the project will be affected by lack of action from the county board of commissioners.
Wruble’s motion past 4-3. Elftman and Commissioners John Bodis and Jeremy Tietz voted against the motion. Wruble, Peruski, Vaughan and Commissioner John Nugent supported it.
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