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Officials seek answers on Deerfield project

BAD AXE – Officials are questioning the fate of a $303 million wind energy project that has changed hands to a Canadian utility and is now on hold.

Last week, the county’s building and zoning director said in an email a contract with the RES Americas construction group, poised to build 72 wind turbines in north and northeastern Huron County, has ended – halting the Deerfield Wind project until a new contractor is selected.

Canada-based Algonquin Power & Utilities announced it will have a 50 percent interest in the joint venture and help RES develop the project.

But County Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith said his understanding is that Algonquin now has a controlling interest.

Officials issued building permits to RES in September, and said residents should see progress after Labor Day. Farm fields in four townships were marked for siting. The utility expects the turbines to turn by the end of next year.

Huron County commissioners had several questions during a committee of the whole meeting Tuesday.

“It sounds to me like they sold their business,” Nugent said.

They were unsure exactly how much of a stake Algonquin has in the project, and if the developer needs to reapply for permits with the county.

“They are evasive on that particular detail,” Commissioner David Peruski said.

Commissioners also are concerned with the utility’s decision to terminate the construction group poised to build the project. Nugent said concrete and steelworker unions want Michigan workers for the job.

“And the rumor is that they were bringing in the workers from another area entirely, not even from the state of Michigan,” he said.

The rumor hasn’t been dispelled or supported, Nugent said, but one of the “selling points of these turbines” was the developer would use Michigan workers whenever possible.

“I thought I read something where that was agreed upon that it would be Michigan workers,” Commissioner John Bodis said.

Commissioner Clark Elftman asked if Nugent had any contact with RES or Algonquin.

“I’ve talked to RES with (development manager) Brad (Lila) one time and he said he would get back to me and he has not since this all occurred,” Nugent said. “So I don’t know what’s going on. Maybe he can’t talk. There’s wind people in the audience, maybe they know something I don’t know.”

“It was a surprise to us as well that it changed hands,” said Michael Sage of DTE Energy.

More than 24,000 acres in the project area were deemed suitable for wind development in 2011, when 220 landowners signed up to participate. Cadillac-based Wolverine Power Cooperative is the power purchaser for the project.