LANSING – A segment of American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) Michigan Wind Forum at the Capitol on Tuesday put Huron County in the spotlight.
County Commissioner David Peruski and Carl Osentoski, executive director of the Huron County Economic Development Corp., took center stage as panelists as part of AWEA’s “Huron County Case Study.”
Flanked by Matt Wagner of DTE Energy, David Shiflett of Geronimo Energy and Scott Viciana of Ventower Industries, the five panelists spoke to about 100 people inside Michigan State University’s Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center.
The entire discussion lasted 45 minutes. As a snapshot, here are a few noteworthy remarks:
“I think Huron County and wind energy need each other,” Wagner said. “The current challenge is how to make that best work.”
Peruski, mindful of plans for more than 700 turbines in the near future, said the rights of those near wind parks should be “enforced and respected.”
“One of the problems the general public has is that it’s been sprung upon them,” he said.
When asked by moderator John Sarver, a board member of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, how many total jobs DTE projects have created, Wagner said he did not have an exact figure but that the number is not insignificant.
“It may not have hit targets the county was hoping for,” he said.
Osentoski previously said that long-term job creation related to wind energy has changed from one job for every 10 turbines to one for every 15.
Osentoski spoke of tax values on turbines, including last year’s $1.7 million boost to the county’s general fund from turbine revenue. Before the forum, a report presented to county commissioners showed turbines brought $9 million in revenue to Huron County in 2014.
The conversation turns
Sarver first asked panelists to tell of their experiences with wind energy in
Huron County, which, with 328 wind turbines, has more than any other county in the state.
“Huron County is obviously the first in the state to have significant wind development,” Sarver said.
Wagner said wind energy has enjoyed success, “despite what you’ve been hearing or seeing in the news.” He said the utility operates 200 turbines in Huron County and plans for an additional $25 to $35 million for future operations through 2019.
Geronimo Energy has $15 million currently invested with plans for up to $170 million, Shiflett said.
The impacts of those developments, both positive and negative, was something Peruski told the Tribune would be important to make known to the AWEA – the national trade association for the U.S. wind industry with more than 1,200 wind developers, utilities and researchers, according to its website.
Then came Peruski’s turn.
He spoke of potentially negative impacts – controversy on siting turbines near the shoreline, the ignoring of landowners during first developments in the county and deficiencies in the county’s wind ordinance. And of positive points – fewer issues with turbine noise and shadow flicker due to new technology and few complaints that tend to get answered.
Panelists’ responses to moderator and audience questions varied, especially on what utilities and county leaders would have done differently before wind development.
Wagner said he would have liked to figure out a way to spend more time connecting with communities.
Peruski, a county commissioner since 2006, said the biggest thing would have been seeking more research and discussion on the county’s wind energy ordinance.
“The original ordinance was pretty liberal,” Peruski said, adding that it was so “liberal” it had to be amended two years after approval. “There was no practical knowledge in the county when it was adopted … we probably were remiss in not investigating it further and getting it right.”
Peruski also told the Tribune before attending that he planned to discuss what has gone right and wrong with wind projects in Huron County and “what we’ve learned from that,” and, most importantly, scrutiny of future projects.
Which inevitably led into discussion on the county considering a moratorium on wind energy development.
“There’s a fair amount of tension in the county,” Wagner said. “That’s OK; tension is good as long as it’s healthy.”
Paired with an anticipated referendum vote asking voters whether to approve areas DTE has deemed suitable for development in Meade Township, and a subcommittee revising the county’s ordinance, “all these actions might change things and have consequences,” Wagner said.
A moratorium is not an effort to say “no more turbines,” Peruski said, but it would provide a temporary period to amend the ordinance to “modern standards” before being lifted.