BAD AXE – County commissioners on Tuesday kept up their side of a deal that would help the county avoid being sued by a wind energy developer.
They gave unanimous support to Geronimo Energy’s new plans for wind turbines on the west side of the county, as part of the terms attorneys drew up in an agreement reached two weeks ago that relieves the county from due process claims made against it by Geronimo.
Honoring the developer’s part of the deal, Geronimo’s new plans place no turbines within three miles of the shoreline.
Up to 59 turbines were planned for Geronimo’s Apple Blossom project, in Winsor and McKinley townships, with multiple locations near the shoreline. That number is now 29, Project Manager David Shiflett said.
“All of these sites are outside of three miles from the lakeshore,” Shiflett said during a presentation Tuesday.
Adhering to the three-mile setback – it’s neither a federal law nor local ordinance – eliminated 6,000 acres of project area, Shiflett said. The total area now spans about 4,800 acres. Shiflett called it a “Herculean task for engineers” to rework project plans.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, some residents and wildlife advocates and Board Chair John Nugent have strongly opposed putting turbines within three miles of shorelines. Geronimo’s plans for turbines in this zone was the “triggering event” that led to county officials discussing the need for a moratorium on wind projects, according to Steve Allen, the board’s attorney. Officials now plan to regulate a three-mile setback as they revise the county’s wind ordinance.
As for all other setbacks, Shiflett said all turbines are in compliance with county ordinances.
A switch to a different turbine puts new ones on a smaller, 285-foot tower, with the rotor diameter covering about 50 more feet. They would stand about 415 feet tall.
“This is a relatively new model that Vestas is offering,” Shiflett said, adding that it is “tried and tested in the U.S.”
The original turbines had a rotor diameter of about 360 feet, placed on a 315-foot tower.
“We’re still in compliance with the tall structures act and FAA,” Shiflett said. “We’ve only added one new turbine location.”
The changes increased decommissioning costs from about $140,000 to about $151,000 per turbine, Shiflett said.
Commissioners skimmed a five-inch binder stacked with project maps and details during Shiflett’s presentation, which lasted about 10 minutes. Board Chair John Nugent called for a recess after. The legislative committee – Clark Elftman, chair; Rich Swartzendruber, vice chair; and member David Peruski – then met separately for about 15 minutes.
The regular meeting resumed, and commissioners voted unanimously on a resolution, which wasn’t on the agenda, to support Geronimo’s modified site plan and recommend county planners approve the project without delay. It also stated the board’s attorney, who is on vacation until early May, will provide a separate review and approval.
Terms of the deal made between Geronimo and the county stem from an April 2 meeting, when commissioners reneged on an agreement that allowed two developers to continue projects under the county’s moratorium on wind energy: at the meeting, the board made a last-minute, 6-1 decision just before voting on the wind energy moratorium itself – and before the public had a chance to respond – to axe a section that allowed the developers to continue.
Geronimo Energy attorney Matthew Zimmerman said due process rights of the developer and public were violated, which eventually led to this week’s deal.
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