HURON COUNTY – After Meade Township voters decided against a wind energy project in May, Chandler, Oliver and Colfax leaders are welcoming DTE Energy’s new plan for a 30-turbine spread.
Chandler Township supervisor Bill Renn says DTE talked with its planning commission two weeks ago about the “Pinnebog Wind Project.” Renn says the township approved a district for the project a year and a half ago.
Oliver Township Supervisor Larry Krohn says some of the 30 turbines are planned for five sections in the northeastern portion of the township. Chandler could get about 10 in the southeast corner, Renn said. The remainder would be in Colfax Township.
The locations directly border Meade Township to the west and southwest, and are near DTE’s 18,000-acre, 70-turbine Echo Wind Park in Chandler and Oliver.
“I’ve all along called it an expansion of the Echo project,” Renn said.
Renn said new turbines would be similar to the ones in the Echo park, which stand about 325 feet with 160-foot blades.
“If the Pinnebog project were to go, I’m guessing the earliest would be next spring,” he said. “Once they get the go-ahead, it’s going to take them three to four months to get the permits in line.”
Renn said Chandler Township’s wind energy ordinance and project approval process are almost a mirror of the county’s. An overlay district must be approved to deem areas suitable for wind development.
“As long as DTE follows Chandler Township’s ordinance, and that’s what the planning commission is reviewing … the planning commission would have the final say on it,” Renn said.
It would come back to the township board if DTE requests a variance or if plans aren’t in line with the ordinance.
Oliver and Colfax have a different process. Both decide whether to allow special use permits for each turbine. And in Oliver, planners make the final decision, Krohn said. They gave conditional approval for the project last week.
“So far, that’s the process we’ve used and it works,” he said.
With close to 80 turbines, Chandler Township has more than two turbines per square mile – the most of any township in the county. Renn says except for the northwest corner, the entire township is in a wind overlay district.
About 470 people live in Chandler. And 80 percent of the township’s landowners are signed up in either Harvest or Echo wind parks, Renn said.
“Our population is quite low, so it worked out well as far as the setbacks,” Renn said. “We do not have industry. We do not have a large residential settlement or possibility of expansion. With the wind turbines coming in and expansion of taxable value, it’s been a windfall.”
According to Renn, who’s been township supervisor for more than 20 years, the extra money has went mostly into roads. Road funding went from $200,000 or $250,000 to $1 million as taxable values doubled with the Harvest Wind Farm and again after Echo was completed, he said.
“From the township’s perspective, it has been very beneficial in regard to road funding and expansion of our tax base,” Renn said.
About 1,500 people live in Oliver Township. Turbines are scattered throughout, with parts in the southeast corner the only sections without. Krohn says turbine tax revenue has added $250,000 to the township’s tax base in the past year.
“We’ve got 52 turbines and it’s always gone smoothly,” he said.
Chandler and Oliver also are the townships in Michigan where the first utility-scale wind project was built – Exelon’s 32-turbine Harvest Wind Farm, which began operation in 2008.
“To say that it’s 100 percent receptive, no, but the vast majority of the people have been able to take advantage of it,” Renn said of the township’s view on wind energy.
He said he’s seen “a few complaints,” all of which came from people in other townships with property abutting Chandler.
There will still be concern of a wind project, Renn says, but he doesn’t foresee legal action that would stop it or a referendum like in Meade. Krohn says Oliver residents have generally been receptive to wind energy.
Colfax Township prepared for about 10 turbines as part of the Meade Wind Park. The township has not had wind development, due in part to its proximity to the airport, and would see its first turbines with DTE’s new project.
The 30 turbines, combined with three other projects in the works, would up the 328 already operating in the county to about 470.