HURON COUNTY – Gov. Rick Snyder, in a special message on energy Friday, called for slashes to coal energy and ramping up renewables during the next decade.
Of the state’s energy goal for 2025, Snyder said 19 percent should come from renewable energy. The figure would double the amount utilities are on target to reach by the end of this year.
In Huron County – Michigan’s leader in wind energy development – 835 square miles lay ground to 328 turbines. Another 175 turbines are in the works, and residents could see even more with Snyder’s proposed increase.
It’s unclear how many additional turbines could be planted in Huron County soil, but a rough estimate made years ago tallied between 500 to 700 turbines, according to Jeff Smith, the county’s building and zoning director.
Smith said that number is largely dependent on the amount of leased property in the county. And a more specific count could come after officials finish revisions of the county’s wind ordinance, which a committee has been working on for more than a year to better regulate setbacks, noise, shadow flicker and other issues.
Committee Chair David Peruski recently said the work is about “87.8 percent” finished.
The changes that committee makes would undoubtedly affect the number of turbines the county receives during the next 10 years.
“The focus is to get the ordinance 100 percent completed and adopted, and from there, try to figure out what the county could support in terms of turbines,” Smith said. “We’re reworking the ordinance to be the best that would be around in Michigan.”
One figure that could be ruled out: the 5,000 megawatts and 2,800 turbines that ITC Transmission says its 140-mile Thumb Loop high-voltage transmission line in Huron, Sanilac, Tuscola and St. Clair counties could support.
“They all can’t fit in Huron County,” Smith said.
John Nugent, board of commissioners chair, sad the county is going to reach a saturation point.
“Which we think is somewhere between 700 and 1,000 turbines,” Nugent said.
However, according to Nugent, ordinance revisions could reduce that to between 500 or 600 – an amount he said would alter the quality of life forever.
“You can’t have an aesthetically pleasing vista with turbines everywhere,” he said. “There’s no escaping more turbines. It’s just how many is what’s in question. Hopefully we can moderate it somewhat … (as to) how closely they’re spaced out and the impact on landowners.”
County Planning Chair Clark Brock was hesitant to jump to any conclusion. He said ordinance revisions may change the amount of wind energy in the county, but until new regulation is in place, he doesn’t know what it’s going to do.
“It’s too early to project,” he said.
Of biggest worry to Smith, and which he says is his top priority as the county’s building and zoning director, is keeping local control rather than putting zoning decisions in the hands of the state.
“We feel that with the revisions and all the work we put into it, we’re going to continue with township and county zoning,” he said. “Try to keep it local.”
Residents supportive and opposed to wind energy have battled since Huron got its first wind park in Ubly in 2007. The issue has recently taken center stage as one of the most divisive in the county.
In December, Nugent announced he would retain a Grand Rapids attorney to help in drafting documents for a wind energy moratorium, which would halt development for up to six months. Commissioners were scheduled to vote on a moratorium Tuesday, but DTE Energy requested another public hearing, delaying a decision to April 2 while allowing one more chance for landowners and residents to have their say.
In response to the governor’s energy policy, DTE Energy Spokesperson Scott Simons says the utility will focus primarily on wind development as a form of renewable energy. Simons said the number of turbines planned for Huron County is still in development.
“One of the things the governor has recognized is that the state’s utilities need flexibility to achieve the state’s energy goals, which is why he didn’t propose mandates,” Simons said in an e-mail.
Snyder’s energy plan: ‘Not easy, but straightforward.’
Snyder’s plan calls for a reduction in coal energy by 20 percent by 2025. He said 10 coal plants could go offline during that time as part of a major move to cleaner sources pushed by the federal government.
“We have to redo our mix,” Snyder said. “Let’s move from coal to cleaner sources.”
He recommended an “achievable” range that makes sense – 30 to 40 percent coming from reducing energy waste and adding renewables.
“You can’t have all renewables,” Snyder said, adding that it does not provide a good answer to base load energy.
And Snyder said fracking – using pressurized water and chemicals to drill into underground oil or gas formations to fracture rock layers and release oil or gas reserves – has continued in Michigan at 10,000 wells “without any real problems.”
Snyder’s plan left Nugent speechless initially.
“The sarcastic side of me says yes, it’s a good idea and we should have enough room to satisfy the mandate if we use the shoreline and the lake,” he said.
He was a bit more serious when it came to giving an opinion of the governor.
“Snyder is ill-advised and imprudent,” Nugent said. “I don’t think he takes into account the effects on others and the people having to live within the vicinity of these (turbines).”
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