County planners consider new, 50-turbine wind park; Minnesota-based developer eyes Winsor, McKinley townships
HURON COUNTY – A developer new to Huron County and Michigan is moving closer to building a 50-turbine wind park in Winsor and McKinley townships.
On Wednesday, county planners reviewed a site plan for Geronimo Energy’s Apple Blossom Wind Farm. They will further review the plan at a Dec. 3 meeting.
David Shiflett, project manager, said the 100-megawatt park is a more than a $160 million project and will bring 10 full-time jobs to the area.
Construction is scheduled to begin as early as April 2015. It should take about six to seven months from initial groundbreaking for the park to become operational, Shiflett said.
About 112 McKinley and Winsor landowners are participants in the project, which covers 255 parcels of land between the two townships, Shiflett said.
Geronimo estimates tax revenue in the first year to be $1.7 million, with the Laker school district receiving about $195,000, the county gaining $353,000 per year and landowners getting $480,000 during the course of 20-year contracts.
“During operation, it will be a $32 million direct impact over 20 years,” he said, adding that $5 million will be spent indirectly on costs such as food and housing during construction.
Turbines planned for the project will be spread across 10,700 acres and stand about 311 feet from ground level to the nacelle, which encases inner components and is where the rotor attaches. The area covered by rotating blades – rotor diameter – is 360 feet, Shiflett said. Turbine blades are about 154 feet long.
The bulk of them – about 40 – are planned for Winsor Township, with the nearest turbine sited about three-quarters of a mile outside Pigeon village limits. In one section, there are as many as eight turbines per square mile, but density varies throughout the area, Shiflett told county planners.
McKinley Township will host the remaining 10 turbines – nine of which are sited within two to three miles of the shoreline, Shiflett said, with the closest being about two miles away.
County planners and wind developers generally follow the three-mile setback recommendation for wind turbines set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but it is not a requirement.
A couple of turbines are installed and operating at just under three miles from the shoreline, according to Jeff Smith, the county’s director of building and zoning.
Shiflett said the area in Winsor and McKinley townships is similar to many other areas in the country. Geronimo, a utility-scale wind energy developer based in Edina, Minnesota, owns three wind farms in Minnesota and 35 wind and solar projects across the upper Midwest.
Working in Huron County and Michigan for the first time presented new challenges.
Shiflett said it was the first time Geronimo enlisted a company to use infrared imagery to reveal drain locations in the ground, a job handled by Hamer Environmental.
“The density of housing and the sheer amount of drains you have to work with in this area is a challenge,” he said. “We’ve spent very large sums of money to understand the area we’re in.”
Applied Ecological Services conducted an avian (bird/bat) analysis for Geronimo, Shiflett said. The study is a requirement for all developers by the county’s wind energy ordinance. Both Winsor and McKinley townships are county-zoned and operate under the ordinance.
In 2011, county commissioners approved Geronimo’s overlay district in a 5-2 vote, with Clark Elftman, Steve Vaughan, John Nugent, John Bodis and former Commissioner John Horny in support. Ron Wruble and David Peruski opposed, with Wruble citing concerns for resident welfare and benefit to the county, while Peruski said he would not vote in favor of new wind districts until the personal property tax issue was resolved and the county’s noise ordinance amended – the latter of which is still being pursued by the board.
For participating landowners, the four-year wait may be worth it.
“These are some of the very first landowners leased in the county,” Shiflett said.
Although he said the response has been mostly supportive so far, there are always concerns of resident welfare, among many others.
“In the western side of the county, wind energy has been very strongly supported,” he said. “We always hear complaints about what other developers have done or not done, but typically those are construction-related issues, and they calm down after construction.”
Geronimo also has land leases in Dwight Township, but Shiflett said the developer is not pursuing anything there currently. Shiflett did not identify the company purchasing power from the park, other than to say it is a Michigan utility that has asked not to release that information yet.
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