BAD AXE – Two wind energy developers offered to pay for an acoustics firm to visit the county and explain the firm’s redo of the proposed wind energy ordinance last week.
On Tuesday, county commissioners declined that offer.
Last year, the county sought Grand Rapids-based Acoustics By Design to write an outline for new sound and noise regulations to govern wind turbines in the county. Planners made changes and asked the firm to review them.
The section was sent back, re-written entirely.
To make sense of it all, commissioners on Tuesday agreed to pay no more than $7,500 for the firm to meet face to face with planners – before a moratorium on new wind projects expires in seven weeks – in order to finalize the ordinance.
“It makes sense to me if I look at it as, have the county’s expert (and) have the wind developers’ experts … let’s do a meeting here and let’s get this thing done,” Jeff Smith, the county’s building and zoning director, told commissioners.
The sound portion has presented the biggest challenge as officials draft a new turbine rulebook.
So far, the county has paid $27,000 to Acoustics By Design to conduct day and nighttime sound testing, write an outline and review changes made to it by planners. Developers NextEra Energy and DTE Energy submitted peer-reviewed studies to the firm from sound consultants they commission.
But Board Chair John Nugent said it would be inappropriate to have the developers pay for the firm’s visit. Instead, the money will come from the county’s general fund through annual fees developers pay the county.
Officials say the money paid to the firm is not coming out of taxpayers’ pockets.
“The fund is already established; it has been funded since the first projects went in” Smith told commissioners.
In 2005, commissioners set fees wind developers must pay for costs of administering wind ordinances. Charges include $800 per turbine and substation for planners to review projects; $400 per turbine for annual inspection reports; and $2,000 per amendment to overlay districts. For building permits, the fee was set at $10 per foot of tower height. Last year, the fees contributed $78,000 to the county’s general fund, according to Smith.
Mark Trumbauer, project manager at NextEra, said the offer was not meant to “throw money at the situation,” but rather to expedite completing the ordinance.
Commissioner Rich Swartzendruber said he didn’t want the perception to be that wind energy companies are influencing Acoustics By Design by paying them to visit the county.
The board voted 6-1 for the firm to meet with planners and the county to pay no more than $7,500 for the visit.
Commissioner Clark Elftman cast the dissenting vote. He said some people on the committee that drafted new regulations have “personal agendas,” and “that’s why they wanted to be on the committee.”
As for all other areas of the ordinance, most of it is “pretty well there,” but there are “a few tidbits to add in” for rules on the complaint resolution process, Smith said.