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Huron County pushes stop button on wind development

Local officials at Michigan’s ground zero for wind energy are telling wind developers “enough is enough.” Huron County has 328 wind turbines, more than all of the other Michigan counties combined. But it has just enacted a moratorium on any additional ones until stricter regulations for industrial wind turbines can be put in place.

“What this means is no turbines for people who don’t want them,” Huron County Commissioner John Nugent said. “The people who want them can still have them as long as it doesn’t adversely affect their neighbors.”

At its final March meeting the Huron County Commission voted 4-3 to adopt the moratorium, which will last 90 days, or until the county zoning ordinance is updated with changes recommended by the county’s wind energy zoning committee. If the changes aren’t enacted within 90 days the moratorium could be extended until they are.

Nugent said there is no secret about what the new regulations will be like. They will include increasing the setback distance for the turbines, creating tighter noise restrictions, eliminating turbine flicker for the homes of nonparticipating residents, and a ban on wind development within three miles of the Lake Huron shoreline. This three-mile no-windmill zone was recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The county’s wind energy zoning committee has been working on revisions for more than a year, and a possible moratorium has been under discussion by the board of commissioners for months. On Dec. 30, 2014, the board voted to seek legal assistance for drafting a moratorium. In addition to the moratorium, the board has also taken action to assure it covers wind developers that had already submitted site plan review requests to the planning commission.

Complaints that living near industrial wind turbines causes adverse health impacts have been voiced worldwide. They include symptoms such as headaches and dizziness allegedly caused by exposure to low-frequency noise, infrasound emitted by the turbines and visual problems allegedly caused by the flicker effect of the turbine blades.

“This is a big deal,” said Kevon Martis director of the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition (IICC), a nonprofit organization that is concerned about the construction of wind turbines in the region. “The moratorium in Huron County is a significant blow to Michigan wind development. Wind developers will no doubt continue to whistle past the tombstones and claim that most people do not mind having entire townships and counties turned into 50-story-tall power plants. But as wind development has increased in Michigan, people’s voices of protest have also increased. And most communities hosting wind turbines are now using every legal and regulatory means at their disposal to stop the bleeding.”

Minnesota-based Geronimo Wind Energy, arguably the wind developer most immediately affected by the moratorium, did not respond to a phone call offering the opportunity to comment.