LANSING – Huron County was recognized Tuesday during the American Wind Energy Association state forum as being at the forefront of the wind energy initiative, and two area leaders joined three company representatives to share the lessons they’ve learned as the county treaded new ground.
Huron County is home to around half of wind energy development constructed since the state mandated that 10 percent of energy must come from renewable resources.
Huron County Commissioner David G. Peruski said, since 2005, 328 turbines have been erected in the county, and projections indicated the county can bear up to 700 turbines.
“What we’ve seen over the years is how not to do it all the way to how to do it right. I’ve seen the best and the worst of these developments,” he said.
In the first developments, neighboring landowners were ignored.
“That started the controversy, because you’d have a landowner right next to another landowner, one had a contract, one didn’t. One was paid, one was not,” he said.
The lesson the county and developers learned was developments receive much more acceptance if all surrounding landowners are involved.
“All the neighbors in the community, make sure there’s compensation and they understand what is going on,” he said.
Some residents, he said, felt as though they weren’t made aware of plans for turbine construction until it was too late, and he advised developers that better communication will help as they plan for future wind parks.
He said the county is working to update the zoning ordinance pertaining to wind, and there has been discussion about a possible moratorium on wind development until the changes are complete.
“We have to be concerned about the ones that are coming and make sure neighbors’ rights are enforced and respected, and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s not an effort to say ‘no more wind turbines,’ but when they are constructed, shadow flicker, noise issues and these types of things are considered by developers,” he said.
David Shiflett, Geronimo Wind Energy project manager-east region, said there has only been one formal complaint filed about the company’s project, Apple Blossom Wind Farm, a 100-megawatt wind farm spanning McKinley and Winsor townships. The complaint was not about turbine noises, he said, but about a problem with a substation that has been corrected.
“We as developers take the complaint process very seriously. Huron County, in their wisdom, have put in the ordinance a very elaborate complaint process, so the landowners have a venue to reach us. It doesn’t fall on deaf ears,” he said.
Carl Osentoski, executive director of the Huron County Economic Development Corporation, said his office and the public are also concerned that the wind parks did not bring as many jobs to the area as expected.
Fellow panelist, Matt Wagner, DTE Energy wind site development manager, said the industry standard is one permanent job for every 10 turbines.
Also, Osentoski said, the taxes paid by wind companies have been lower than originally promised due to tax abatement and a change to the deprecation schedule. The depreciation table change caused approximately $28 million in lost value to local municipalities.
Huron joined with four other counties – Sanilac, Tuscola, Gratiot and Mason – to form the Michigan Renewable Energy Coalition to argue that the tax commission made an error when it changed the depreciation schedule, and the group worked to create a compromise table.
Wagner said pointed out that municipalities in Huron County have received $5 million in tax revenue thanks to turbine development, and projects show that figure will grow to $25 to $35 million by 2019.
“I think Huron County and wind energy need each other, and the current challenge is how to figure out how to best make it work,” Wagner said.