In the space of about a week, three Sanilac County townships put a stay on wind energy development, and a fourth is considering the same possibility.
Marion Township, one of the future sites for a planned Exelon wind project, approved a moratorium on wind energy development March 3, halting any future wind projects for at least six months.
On Tuesday, voters in Argyle and Wheatland townships voted down their wind energy ordinances.
And, on Thursday, Roger Knight submitted a petition for a moratorium on wind energy development in Bridgehampton Township. A council member also made a similar motion.
The temporary halt to wind energy plans comes in the wake of a wind turbine collapse in neighboring Huron County, concerns about allowable setbacks and allegations of conflicts of interest in Marion and Bridgehampton townships – where some public officials voting on wind turbine-friendly ordinance changes also hold leases with Exelon and other wind energy companies.
Marion, Bridgehampton and Custer townships are poised to welcome a total of 68 new windmills as part of an Exelon wind farm project. Measuring about 499 feet in height, the windmills would generate about 150 megawatts of energy – enough to power about 44,000 average homes.
Kristen Otterness, spokeswoman for Exelon, said the company has received word of the moratorium in Marion Township.
“We’re evaluating the impact a moratorium may have on the Michigan Wind 3 project,” Otterness said in an email. “We’ll continue to work with the townships to develop a constructive approach to permitting wind generation facilities.”
Bridgehampton Township Supervisor Michael Haggerty said the township board on Thursday received a petition from Knight requesting a moratorium. He said board member Katherine Kelly also made a motion for a moratorium.
“I know that (the board is) going to look at the possibility, because they requested the attorney to provide them with information on moratoriums,” Haggerty said. “He’s to provide that to the board at their April meeting.”
Haggerty said the township has received an application from Exelon for a special land use permit. He said the application is being reviewed by township engineers and hasn’t been placed on any agendas yet.
Knight said, in addition to his petition for a moratorium, he also submitted signatures for a referendum on an ordinance amendment that would change the way the township notifies people of public hearings.
The referendum would put the issue to a vote by the residents in August, presumably stalling any board action on wind projects until after the August vote.
Knight said if the board chooses to act on a special land use permit anyway, he’d take them to court.
“Their options are pretty small at this point,” Knight said. “They’re either going to listen to the people or get litigated.
“We’re not saying we don’t want windmills. We’re saying you’ve got to change these setbacks.”
Supervisor Arnold McVittie said he recommended a six-month moratorium in Marion Township to the board March 3. The moratorium passed on a 3-2 vote.
“There seems to be some questions in regard to some of the items in our zoning ordinance and wind ordinance,” McVittie said.
“During that 6-month period, hopefully, we can work together and work them out. That’s the goal and it would be easier done with the moratorium in place.”
Jon Block, a Marion Township planning commission member, said signatures also were submitted in Marion Township for a referendum regarding a zoning ordinance amendment that would expand the township wind overlay district to accommodate the Exelon project.
Block said the issue will go to a township vote in August.
“We were given the time to do this the right way and we need to move forward as a community,” Block said.
“We want to write an ordinance that respects both participating and non-participating land owners.”
The stays on wind energy development come weeks after two turbines in Huron County failed.
On Feb. 19, a blade on a DTE Energy wind turbine in Sigel Township bent and wrapped around the nacelle of the turbine, flinging a 12-foot piece of blade about 120 yards from the base. The incident remains under investigation.
On Feb. 25, a 396-foot Exelon wind turbine in Elkton collapsed to the ground. Otterness said the company finished gathering data and material from the site and sent the information to an independent lab.
“Based on preliminary information, we’re looking at the pitch system first, then we’ll continue to look at other systems,” Otterness said in an email. “The pitch system controls how the blades move back and forth.”
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