HURON COUNTY – Wind energy is ablaze with rumors, misinformation and inaccuracies aplenty, with both proponents and opponents fueling the fire.
Debunking some claims can be difficult, but Huron County officials say a diagram circulating in the county doesn’t paint an accurate picture.
The diagram, which Meade Township resident Dale Ricker said he has circulated on Facebook and other social networks and provided to county commissioners and the Tribune, shows areas where landowners wouldn’t be able to build on their property if a turbine is erected.
It plots a 1,250-foot circle showing a “no-build zone” around a farmer’s property. In the center stands a 400-foot wind turbine. The diagram claims neighboring landowners with property outside of the circle can’t build on their land within 1,250 feet of the turbine.
Jeff Smith, the county’s building and zoning director, said he received the diagram via email from an “anti-wind constituent.”
“It is misleading and it’s highly falsified,” Smith said. “They’re trying to convey that by placing a turbine on a neighboring parcel, it would make all the other parcels un-buildable and that’s just not the case.
“The zoning ordinance restricts placement of a wind turbine, but it does not restrict from building on their property as long as it complies with the ordinance. They can build there if they choose to.”
Smith said he has confirmed this with Steve Allen, the county’s corporate counsel.
“That map is skewed to portray someone’s misbelief of placement of turbines,” Smith said. “There is essentially no taking of property; each person can still build as long as rules and regulations are followed.”
Ricker said he pulled the image from someone’s Facebook post.
“I know the measurements on here aren’t maybe what our ordinance is,” Ricker said. “I still believe it is an issue.”
Ricker said he owns a 10-acre spread, none of which is included in DTE Energy’s overlay area for its 50-turbine wind park planned in Meade, Colfax and Chandler townships.
But he is concerned with how turbines may affect property values and the health and safety of neighbors in a wind district.
“Indirectly, I do have to worry,” Ricker said.
Another factor Ricker took issue with is turbine setbacks measured from a resident’s house rather than property lines.
“Moving setbacks to the property edge would protect landowners and allow them to utilize their land,” he said. “Noise and (shadow) flicker issues, a lot of those things would probably not be as big issues if we had a setback of 1,640 feet. The bottom line is, we need bigger setbacks (that) go from property lines instead of from the resident’s home or building on their land.”
Huron County’s wind energy ordinance stipulates that along the border of a wind district, there must be a setback distance equal to two times the hub height of a turbine. Smith said there also is regulation on setbacks from property lines measuring 400 to 600 feet.
The diagram also surfaced at the board of commissioners meeting Tuesday. County Commissioner Richard Swartzendruber, a former county planner, said the information is not accurate. Board Chair John Nugent added that it is misleading.
Smith said it is important that property owners in question check with their local zoning administrator.
“(They) really need to ask the right people,” he said.
Also questioned at Tuesday’s board meeting was the worth of turbines in the county.
Commissioner and Finance Chair Ron Wruble, who at a Feb. 10 meeting compared $3 million in annual wind contract payouts from 328 turbines to be a “spit in the ocean” compared to more than $654 million in agriculture revenue for 2012 in the county, made another comparison.
Wruble said a roughly $1 billion investment in wind turbines has created 22 full-time jobs, while a recently announced $32 million expansion at the manufacturer Sensient Flavors in Harbor Beach expects to bring 32 full-time jobs.
“The income derived off wind turbines for royalties isn’t what drives this county,” Wruble said.
Wruble said he based his findings on talks with the county’s Economic Development Corp.(EDC) and developers. Carl Osentoski, executive director of the EDC, previously told the Tribune that the ratio has changed from one full-time, long term job for every 10 turbines to one per 15.
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