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Huron County planners review wind energy ordinance plan

BAD AXE – Hours of vetting new rules for wind turbines in Huron County came to an end Thursday.

County planners will now send a doubly revised wind energy ordinance to Acoustics By Design, a Grand Rapids acoustics firm, for another set of eyes to validate changes – the majority of which were made in sections that cover sound and noise from turbines.

However, Huron County is still at least a season away from getting a finalized wind turbine rule book.

Which means officials will likely extend the county’s moratorium on new wind projects that took effect in May for up to three more months, as revision changes crawl through the approval process.

“Hopefully, by then we’d have the ordinance finished,” Jeff Smith, building and zoning director, said of the maximum Nov. 1 end date for the moratorium.

Smith said he plans to finalize changes next week and send the draft to the firm, along with peer-reviewed studies for consideration.

The county paid Acoustics By Design more than $20,000 to do day and nighttime sound testing near turbines. The bill was paid using money the county collects from annual fees from wind developers, according to Smith. With that, the firm also wrote a sample guideline for sound and noise regulations the county could use.

But as developers and other sound consultants chimed in, planners made changes in technical details of measuring and reporting turbine sound and noise. Addressing those issues has been the biggest challenge, and most time-consuming.

For officials, crafting specific sound and noise testing methodology – which Smith said is lacking in most other wind ordinances – will give consistent results.

“Right now, we don’t have that,” Smith said.

For residents, Smith says the muddy water will be cleared.

“By giving specificity in the ordinance, it clears up interpretation issues,” he said. “That in itself will help landowners feel comfortable. (Developers) have to show us all the data sets that comply with the ordinance. It’s definitely a more accurate way of doing things.”

Planners are requesting a response from Acoustics By Design within 30 days.

After its back in planners’ hands, they hope to take the next step in cementing regulations – holding a public hearing – at a September meeting. It would then either head to county commissioners for final approval, or to another public hearing.

The process has taken more than 18 months so far.

“To do it properly, it’s going to take time,” Smith said.

Time, which, according to Smith, has “involved all the right people in all the right places.”

“We have 328 turbines in Huron County, so it’s not like we’re not familiar with it,” he said. “We know if there are issues and problems; we know what there is to focus on.”

The new, 22-page draft ordinance is almost triple the length of the 2010 revised ordinance. Wind developers say the proposed regulations are so strict that, if approved, turbines would essentially be zoned out of the county. The rules would apply to 16 county-zoned townships.

“It will have an impact on projects, yet still be reasonable and protect everyone in the county,” Smith said, adding that he believes the newest draft is one of the best ones out there.

“We want responsible development. And consistency.”