BAD AXE – With prohibition of new wind energy projects for Huron County set to expire today, county commissioners on Tuesday voted 4-3 to extend a moratorium for three more months.
The extension will give officials more time to finish an overhaul of the 2010 wind energy ordinance. The new version will act as a more defined rule book developers must follow if they want to build projects in the county leading the state in the number of wind turbines, with 328.
“It’s going to change the ball game,” Commissioner Sami Khoury said. “You’ll see down the road, after this ordinance is passed, that our work is going to be adopted by other counties in the state. There’s people that are unhappy in other parts of the state with these wind turbines.”
Commissioners mirrored a 4-3 vote cast in April to enact the moratorium. Khoury joined David Peruski, Board Chair John Nugent and Ron Wruble in support to extend the moratorium; John Bodis, Clark Elftman and Rich Swartzendruber were opposed.
Swartzendruber wasn’t as optimistic as Khoury.
“I think how much it’s going to be picked up by other counties and townships will depend on how much the revisions in the ordinance are based on facts, rather than just politics,” Swartzendruber said, motioning toward Nugent. “Because if you’re just pulling numbers out of the air to satisfy people without scientific facts … you’re just creating problems.”
Swartzendruber’s comment follows advice by the board’s attorney, Steve Allen, who last week cautioned the board that new rules and changes will need to be based on reason rather than opinion to hold if the county is taken to court for the ordinance being too restrictive.
Nugent said he talked with Jeff Smith, the county’s building and zoning director. He said developers have not approached Smith with plans for new wind projects.
And building permits have not been taken out for the county’s three projects in progress, according to Peruski. Those projects would add about 115 new turbines, with construction planned as early as next year to bring the county’s total to 445. Peruski – whose pivotal roles as county planner, commissioner and chair of the subcommittee that drafted the ordinance overhaul – voted in favor of enacting the moratorium as a planner in March and again as a county commissioner in April.
With the 90-day extension, officials could have, at most, nearly two years invested in the process since commissioners formed the subcommittee in January last year.
The more than 18 months of work so far has been well spent, according to Smith, who has advised the subcommittee, planners and commissioners throughout.
“To do it properly, it’s going to take time,” Smith previously told the Tribune.
Khoury’s notion that the new ordinance will be a game changer echoed a comment Smith made earlier this month, when Smith said it was “one of the best ones out there.”
“It will have an impact on projects, yet still be reasonable and protect everyone in the county. … We want responsible development. And consistency,” he said.
The draft ordinance spans 22 pages – triple the length of the 2010 version. Almost half of it governs sound and noise from turbines.
Other additions include a three-mile setback for turbines from the Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron shorelines; limits on the amount of shadow flicker – a phenomenon caused by turbine blades slicing sun rays to create shadows on walls, homes and land at specific times of day; increased setbacks from homes, property lines, public roads and power and telephone lines; and capping turbine height at 499 feet.
The moratorium and pending ordinance changes apply to 16 townships that operate under county zoning.
The moratorium is expected to hold until a Grand Rapids acoustics firm reviews changes planners made. The county paid Acoustics By Design more than $20,000 to do day and nighttime sound testing near turbines, and write a sample guideline for new sound and noise regulations. With advice from consultants working with wind developers, planners agreed to make changes and send to the independent firm for review.
After it’s 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 commissioners for final approval, or to another public hearing.
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