CARO – A top Tuscola County official said it was “very disconcerting” that at least one Ellington Township official struck a deal to lease land to NextEra Energy Resources – and has been involved in setting ordinances for wind turbines.
That was just one of the issues raised by Thomas Bardwell, chairman, Tuscola County Board of Commissioners, after Ellington Township resident Mike Pattullo addressed the board’s committee of the whole meeting Monday.
Among other things, Pattullo alleges that Ellington Township has “possibly the weakest ordinance enacted in Michigan in the last five years” when it comes to noise allowed and setbacks.
Ellington Township’s current wind farm ordinance, adopted last year, allows 55 decibels of sound and a setback of 1,320 feet from a home. Pattullo said he was seeking any kind of assistance he can get from the board in addressing the situation.
Bardwell – who represents District 2, which includes Ellington Township – said he worries that a few landowners can make decisions that affect so many, calling Patullo’s appearance “a forerunner of what yet is to come.”
“We don’t have any overreach into the townships,” Bardwell said. “But the thing that we are, and always have been, are a board of last resort so when things absolutely start unraveling – even in those areas where we have no authority – the residents of the county come here for relief.”
As The Advertiser first reported Jan. 27, NextEra Energy Resources Inc. plans to file an application for its third Tuscola County wind farm by April. The farm would be in Ellington, Almer, and Fairgrove townships.
NextEra Energy Resources – which announced Tuesday plans to acquire two more wind farms in Oklahoma for $323 million – is a subsidiary of Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Inc. (NYSE: NEE).
Bardwell told The Advertiser Tuesday that NextEra Energy Resources has not provided the board an update on details about the project, such as a timeline, how many turbines the project will include or how many landowners have agreed to lease property to NextEra Energy Resources.
Bardwell called Pattullo’s presentation the most comprehensive the board has received about the project to date.
Concurrently, however, Bardwell said that because Tuscola County doesn’t have countywide zoning, the board is limited in what it can do with regard to many of the issues raised by Pattullo.
One idea was to develop some sort of resolution, Bardwell said, but it would take the board time to develop language for what such a resolution might include.
Pattullo said he, and other residents, are expecting a “major dual” to happen between representatives of NextEra Energy Resources and residents at a special Ellington Township planning commission meeting set for March 9.
During Monday’s public meeting, meanwhile, Bardwell also questioned whether the best interests of all affected by any new turbines are being taken into consideration.
“A lot of money is exchanging hands, as you well know, and best interests are not always in the best interests of the residents,” Bardwell said during the meeting.
“It’s very disconcerting to hear that a deal was struck with major landowners before this even came to zoning. And with that, having the same individuals sit on the board and planning commission that can approve and such.”
Duane Lockwood, supervisor, Ellington Township, has publicly stated he is among landowners in the area who have agreed to lease land to NextEra Energy Resources for part of the project the company is calling Tuscola III. The company has two existing wind farms in Tuscola County.
Reached by The Advertiser by phone Monday during the county board meeting, Lockwood said he would not provide an email address. He did not return a phone call to The Advertiser Tuesday.
The Advertiser hand-delivered a Michigan Freedom of Information Act request to Lockwood at his address of 2371 Tomlinson Road Tuesday requesting access to all communications – including emails – between he and NextEra Energy Resources since 2013.
He did not respond by press time.
“When it comes to townships, you’ve (Pattullo) pretty much identified a real crisis and that is that much of their work is ‘what road to pave?’ and ‘how thick to put the dirt on the road?’” Bardwell said.
Bardwell said the planned Tuscola III project “was kept in the small print” and “maybe not as well publicized as it should have been.”
Steven Stengel, director of communications at NextEra Energy Resources, said any allegation that NextEra has been trying to keep Tuscola III a secret is untrue.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “We have, and will continue to, follow all of the required processes and procedures in the townships and the county.”
Stengel said the project has been talked about during different public meetings since early 2014.
For example, he said, in March 2014, NextEra representatives were at the Ellington Township board meeting and discussed a “meteorological tower application and the process for that.”
The following month, Stengel said, NextEra representatives filed a special use permit for Tuscola III.
“And obviously when we were there in March of 2014 we were there to discuss a met tower for Tuscola III,” Stengel said.
He said that NextEra representatives also presented the project to the Almer Township board in April, 2014.
At the same time, he said, NextEra was talking to potential customers and landowners who may be interested in leasing the company property.
“This notion that somehow we’ve tried to do something in secret is simply not the case,” Stengel told The Advertiser.
[audio clip available at source]
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