NextEra Energy Resources Inc. plans to file an application for its third Tuscola County wind park within two months, but area landowners say they’re already against it.
Steven Stengel, director of communications at NextEra Energy Resources, said the company hopes to break ground on the 100-megawatt park by the end of 2016. He said he wasn’t sure how many turbines the new park would include, but the similar-sized Tuscola Wind II Energy Park generates 100.3 megawatts and consists of 59 turbines.
“We are working on a project that we are calling ‘Tuscola III’ and it would be in Almer, Ellington and Fairgrove townships” Stengel told The Advertiser Tuesday. “We have not filed any sort of application for the project but would probably expect to do that within the next couple of months.”
Stengel said Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc. (NYSE: NEE), doesn’t have a customer lined up to purchase the power that would be generated, but is working with potential buyers. Customers for its existing parks in the area include DTE and Consumers Energy.
Stengel also confirmed NextEra representatives are working with landowners in Ellington, Almer, and Fairgrove townships to secure locations for potential turbines.
He couldn’t provide details on exact locations. The similar-sized Tuscola II wind farm consists of about 88 acres total and harnesses enough wind energy to provide power for about 45,000 homes.
Stengel said that the current dispute over the assessed value of NextEra’s existing wind farms in Tuscola County – expected to be heard by the Michigan Tax Tribunal soon – will have “no effect” on plans for Tuscola III.
He added that the hope is to start construction by 2017.
Tuscola County Board of Commissioners member Craig Kirkpatrick said plans for a new wind farm in the county are “wonderful.”
“When we get new wind farms, we get additional tax revenue,” Kirkpatrick said.
However, several people,who live near the locations reportedly being scouted by NextEra are not quite so happy.
Ellington Township resident Mike Pattullo heard about the project in December and voiced his concerns at the last township board meeting, asking the board to put this project on hold until more restrictions are added to the township’s wind ordinance.
Pattullo said he knows a number of residents living near wind turbines in Tuscola County who are annoyed with the noise the machines make.
He described a repetitive WHOOSH sound that occurs when the wind comes into contact with the blades.
Ellington Township adopted a wind ordinance in February of 2015, putting restrictions on the level of sound pressure and the required distance between a wind turbine and a house.
The ordinance allows the wind turbines to release up to 55 A-weighted decibels of sound pressure, and stand 1,320 feet away from the home and 600 feet away from the property line.
Pattullo argues that the ordinance is weak because a wind turbine causing 55 db(A) of noise at the house is too high.
He added that most wind ordinances in surrounding townships don’t exceed 45 db(A).
Pattullo refered to noise data found on the World Health Organization’s website where the organization recommends less than 40 db(A) at the house, “to prevent adverse health effects from night noise.”
He said the setback restrictions aren’t high enough either, as other townships, including Riga and Denmark, have required the distance between the property line and the turbine to be twice the height of the turbine.
“Our current wind ordinance allows each turbine to take away a significant amount of land use rights from non-participating landowners without their consent,” Pattullo said.
To get the word out, Pattullo and a group of other concerned residents formed a Facebook page called Ellington Township Concerned Citizens.
“We are not anti-wind turbines,” Pattullo said. “We are anti-weak ordinance.”
But Pattullo is afraid the board has already made up their mind.
Ellington Township Supervisor Duane Lockwood has a different perception of 55 db(A), saying it isn’t louder than the noise a refrigerator makes.
“My planning commission did their research on all this stuff and there was no actual data, whether it’s medical or scientific, that stated that wind turbines make people sick,” Lockwood said.
In 2013, Lockwood said NextEra Energy Resources approached the board to discuss the placement of Tuscola III in the eastern portion of Fairgrove Township and in parts of Almer and Ellington Townships.
Lockwood said he researched the idea and looked into zoning requirements before updating the wind ordinance.
“Our zoning ordinance mirrors all the surrounding townships around us,” Lockwood said. “They’re real close.”
He added that a site plan has not been confirmed yet, but he knows at least one of the turbines will be installed on his property, based on his wind lease with NextEra.
Russell Spears, of Ellington Township, just learned one of his neighbors, who he guessed lives about 600 feet away from his driveway, also has a wind lease with NextEra.
Spears said the placement of a wind turbine this close to his home could restrict his land use rights.
He added if one of his daughters starts a family and wants to build a house next to his when she grows up, she might not be allowed to, depending on where the wind turbines are installed.
“I want to make sure we’re safe and I want to protect the property of our residents,” Spears said. “Let’s just settle down for a few months and let’s talk to the residents.”
At the next board meeting Feb. 9, Pattullo and Spears said they will ask for a moratorium.
Until then, Pattullo said he is going door-to-door to notify Ellington residents about the project.
Of the 25 residents he’s notified so far, Pattullo said only one knew about the plans for turbine construction in Ellington Township.
“The response has been pretty overwhelming,” Pattullo said. “It’s not just my problem, it’s all of our problems.”
Stengel said that “without knowing what they’re saying” he couldn’t comment on opposition to the turbines.
Kirkpatrick said that the opposition represents the kind of variables that “can make or can not make these things happen.”
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