HURON COUNTY – State officials say the decision to disallow wind energy projects in a majority of Huron County for up to six months likely will not affect Gov. Rick Snyder’s energy plans.
“This would not have a huge impact on the governor’s overall ideas,” said Dave Murray, Snyder’s deputy press secretary, of the wind energy moratorium Huron County officials approved Thursday.
Of the state’s energy goal for 2025, Snyder said in March that 30 to 40 percent should come from reducing energy waste and adding renewables – and 19 percent of the total should come from energy sources like wind. Snyder did not impose a mandate during his special message.
Huron County leads the state in wind energy, with 328 turbines currently turning and plans in place to boost that number to more than 500.
“Especially in an area that is leading the state, we want that community discussion,” Murray said. “How they’re generating energy and how they’re using it. (They’re) going to do a lot of discussion, debate and study to see what works best.”
A report by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), a regulatory agency for public energy, communication and transportation services, shows utilities will meet a 10 percent renewable energy mandate set in 2008 by the end of this year.
“Based on the most recent report, it appears that we will meet the 10 percent by 2015 (and not be) hindered by this moratorium,” said Judy Palnau, MPSC spokeswoman.
That report also shows an excess amount of renewable energy credits.
“They’re in a bank, so to speak, if a project did not produce what is anticipated,” Palnau said. “Therefore, the fact that these two projects will not be built as planned should not affect that 10 percent goal.”
The two Huron County projects now stalled by the moratorium include Geronimo Energy’s Apple Blossom and RES Americas’ Deerfield Wind Project, which combine for more than 120 turbines. Both were approved for wind districts years ago. Heritage Energy also plans to add 15 turbines to its Big Turtle Wind Farm.
Although state officials aren’t on edge, a local worry does exist.
Officials and residents fear local zoning issues, like siting turbines, could be decided by the state if moratoriums and other restrictions on wind energy that conflict with current or future state energy mandates continue.
Palnau said the idea surfaced periodically since before 2008, but the agency has not heard any new discussion on it.
Developers stalled; county officials back to work
The moratorium does not take immediate effect. The county must publish notice in the newspaper within 15 days of adopting the amendment allowing a moratorium. It’s also subject to referendum, as residents may file a petition within seven days of the published notice. To successfully get it on the ballot, signatures are required from 15 percent of registered voters within the zoning jurisdiction – in this case, the 16 county-zoned townships the moratorium applies to.
Locally, officials will use the moratorium’s delay period to continue updating a county wind ordinance.
“There’s still work to do with it, but the blunt of the revisions are completed,” said Jeff Smith, the county’s building and zoning director.
County Commissioner David Peruski, chair of a committee making those revisions, recently said the work is “93.6 percent” done.
“A few things were simply missing and needed to be put in,” Peruski said.
Those “few things” have kept the nine-member committee at work for more than a year making changes. They’ve sought to add language regulating shadow flicker caused by turbine blades slicing sunlight, noise issues and setbacks from property.
Drawing the most recent attention, however, is turbine placement along the county’s more than 90 miles of shoreline.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made its stance clear on this, writing to the county and making two presentations to affirm that wind development should not occur within three miles of shorelines. The county’s current ordinance is mum on this. The Apple Blossom project sites several turbines within that zone.
“I am looking to include it and I believe others will be,” Peruski said of adding a three-mile buffer in the ordinance. “The chances of it being in there are strong.”
If a revised ordinance is completed and the county is still under a moratorium, officials say it would be lifted.
“The developers have really done a pretty good job of listening to what the county wants to do with the ordinance,” Smith said.
So, what about leaseholders?
Years ago, hundreds of residents signed up to participate in the Apple Blossom and Deerfield projects. Leaseholders include landowners and some township and county officials.
Smith said the moratorium would have a definite effect on the projects, which developers sought to begin working on this year.
“They’re just going to have to stay in contact with the developer, call our department and we’ll work through this process,” Smith said. “It’s just another regulation we have to contend with … another layer we’ll have to sort through.”
Geronimo Energy and RES Americas could not be reached for comment.
County planners continue to review wind project plans. At a Wednesday meeting, they tabled further review for all projects until May, citing a need for more information.
Officials will need to consult with the county’s attorney, Steve Allen, for the next step, Smith said.
“We really have to wait and see,” Smith said. “We’ll know more in a week or two.”
Clearing the air
DTE Energy, a utility that owns or operates the majority of turbines in the county, in March requested another public hearing for the moratorium. Speaking at Thursday’s hearing, Matt Wagner, a DTE wind development manager, said imposing a moratorium sends a message, and those who hear about a moratorium in Huron County “will not likely understand the details and this will create uncertainty.”
“If the state is counting on more wind energy in the future and looks to the Thumb for some of this, it’s hard to predict how a moratorium will impact this,” Wagner said. “A moratorium will, in the end, actually hurt Huron County’s future, than help it.”
Peruski, who has consistently voted in support of a moratorium since Board Chair John Nugent first brought it to the board of commissioners in December, said the signal might be unclear.
“We tried to get the message out that this is not a ban; we’re trying to say, take a breather, get it right. We’ll republish it and we can go from there with the new things in the ordinance that provide protection for everyone involved,” Peruski said.
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