Planners, developers review new turbine rules; Companies get first look at limits, disagree with some
BAD AXE – County planners on Wednesday voiced initial reactions to a “complete rewrite” of wind energy regulations while reviewing a draft sent to private wind developers before it was available to the public.
Several proposed changes, updates and additions mark stricter regulation for wind turbines. They include restricting turbines from being put within three miles of the shoreline; limiting turbine height; and increasing distances from property, public roads and power lines.
More than 10 of the 22 pages add regulation for wind turbine noise. Limits are placed on shadow flicker, too – a phenomenon caused by turbine blades slicing sun rays to create shadows at a specific time of day.
The draft, which is still under review, is 22 pages – almost triple the length of a 2010 revised ordinance. A committee with a cast of the county’s commissioners, planners, attorney, building and zoning director and residents has worked for more than a year and a half on the draft.
Jeff Smith, the county’s building and zoning director, says wind developers have been involved with weekly committee meetings to make the changes, and had the data all along.
“The county asked them to provide more information for us,” Smith said.
The draft was not released to the public until after the planning commission’s Wednesday meeting.
“It’s not ready for that stage yet,” Smith said of public comment. “This is the first official draft that’s been out.”
Meanwhile, copies were sent to developers, who were given the first opportunity to respond publicly during Wednesday’s planning commission meeting.
And they did.
Florida-based NextEra Energy says the company supports the proposed increase for property setbacks and a three-mile setback from shorelines. Project Manager Mark Trumbauer told planners NextEra has 22,000 acres leased in the county it would like to pursue for future projects.
“The proposed ordinance that you have with you right now frankly would eliminate the potential for us to develop in Huron County,” Trumbauer said, adding tightened sound regulations would be the greatest issue.
Dan Ettinger, a Grand Rapids attorney for NextEra, said the changes are neither legal nor enforceable.
“You essentially would be banning commercial wind development in Huron County,” Ettinger told planners.
DTE Energy, which owns or operates the majority of turbines in Huron County, had the same concern last week when the utility commented on the changes during an April 29 media-only tour of its Brookfield Wind Park.
“Honestly, one of our concerns is that those ordinance changes are so significant that they, for all intents and purposes, zone the turbines out of Huron County,” DTE’s Matt Wagner said.
Planning Chair Clark Brock said the new draft is at least 80 percent different than the current ordinance.
“It would be severely limited if we pass this,” Brock said in response to member Jeffery Krohn, who asked if the changes would prohibit wind development.
But Brock says he’d rather continue to “beat things out of it until we get it right” than to rush it.
Member Joel Weber asked how the committee arrived at shadow flicker limits of 30 hours for landowners participating in a wind project and 10 hours for those who aren’t. Weber, disgruntled, repeatedly asked Brock whom would monitor shadow flicker at someone’s property and resolve it.
“I’m with Joel on this one,” Vice Chair Bernie Creguer said. “You’re trying to create an impossibility.”
Brock said it would be between the landowner and developer to resolve, with the county’s building and zoning office acting as a mediator.
Brock said the committee looked at ordinances across the state and country. Some varied from no regulation to up to 10 and 30 hours, he said. Planners have reviewed some projects that anticipated more than 30 hours of shadow flicker at specific locations.
Another section stipulates developers must document compliance with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s wind energy guidelines.
An entry was made for infrasound, which measures frequencies under 20 hertz – the lower limit of human hearing – and low-frequency noise, which is measured between 20 to 200 hertz. The draft outlines methodology and several other requirements for sound measuring and reporting.
And, don’t cry wolf – unless you’ve got a spare $500.
Those who knowingly make a false complaint to the official in charge of enforcing the ordinance that there has been a violation would be slapped with a $500 fine, the draft states.
An ominous excerpt reads: “ … (the person) is guilty of a civil infraction, and upon a finding of responsibility is subject to a fine of up to $500 for each violation and all costs associated with the investigation and prosecution thereof.”
Planners agreed to continue reviewing the draft and table a decision until their June meeting.
The current moratorium on wind energy development for up to six months, which prohibits new wind projects in the majority of Huron County, hinges on the ordinance updates. Officials say the moratorium could be lifted once revisions are completed and approved.
Some of the proposed changes from the 2010 ordinance
• Turbines three miles from shoreline. Previously, not regulated
• Shadow flicker: max 10 hours/year for non-participating residences; 30 hours/year at participating. Previously, not regulated.
• Property setbacks: 1,640 feet from non-participating residences; 1,320 from property line. Previously, 1,320 feet.
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