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Almer Twp. planning board recommends moratorium

CARO – The Almer Township Planning Commission voted 4-3 to recommend a six-month moratorium on wind turbine development, citing a need to learn more about the machines and their impact.

They also voted to table the discussion and resume at its June 1 meeting.

The actions were taken in light of questions board members said they still have about light, sound and decommissioning (what happens to turbines when they’re no longer used), among other things.

“For our next step, I think I see a to-do list,” said Robert Braem, chairman, Almer Township Planning Commission.

The Almer Township planning commission has been tasked by the township board of trustees with reviewing proposed changes to the township’s existing wind ordinance with a $200 million wind farm project being planned.

The moratorium recommendation for the Almer Township Board of Trustees doesn’t mean the board needs to accept, or act on, it.

A detailed plan for the wind farm – Tuscola III – has not been released.

NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C., the developer, has filed applications for 60 turbines with the FAA, which will determine any potential hazards to aircraft. NextEra officials have said the applications aren’t necessarily guaranteed to be locations of where turbines will be located – only that they could be placed. NextEra officials also have confirmed land surveys are underway for turbines.

Bryan Garner, manager of communications at NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C., said Friday that Almer Township should not delay approving proposed changes to its wind ordinance.

“Wind power presents a tremendous opportunity for Almer Township to generate clean, renewable, home-grown energy, and create significant economic benefits for its residents,” Garner said.

Garner added that “Almer Township has a carefully drafted wind ordinance on the table.”

“The ordinance should be approved as originally proposed by the Planning Commission last year,” Garner said. “It’s time to stop delaying and move forward with responsible wind development.”

During the meeting Wednesday, Ryan Pumford, project manager, NextEra Energy Resources, said Almer Township’s proposed ordinance changes related to setbacks of wind turbines more than adequately protect the health, safety, and welfare of those who live and work in the area.

“One of the questions you have to answer is what information do you have that makes you feel compelled to change that (setback) number,” Pumford said.

Jim Mantey, commissioner, Almer Township Planning Commission, responded.

“I would answer that with Almer Township is our township and it’s our prerogative to set those numbers where we feel like it’s healthy and good for everyone,” he said.

During public comment, those in attendance were given three minutes to address the board.

Among those to speak were members of the group Ellington-Almer Townships Concerned Citizens, who have consistently asserted since late 2015 that they aren’t anti-wind turbine and have only the interests of those who live in the community in mind.

“I think (Tuscola III) is a great opportunity at the proper setbacks,” said Bobbie Mozden, of Ellington Township. “That’s what the concerned citizens are asking for.

“I’m all for bringing funding into our community,” she said.

However, those who identified themselves as “for wind turbines” appeared intent on perpetuating the discussion as black or white, suggesting individuals are either for or against wind turbines.

“You got two sets of groups: one for and one anti-wind” said Dave Russell. “They say they aren’t anti-wind, but they got a lawyer from Ohio coming up, which is…I would say that’s kinda anti-wind.”

Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C. had a team of experts on hand, as introduced by NextEra’s Pumford – also among the first to speak.

“Just wanted to make the team available at your disposal to answer any questions you might have about the operations side, the safety side, complaints, that kind of thing,” Pumford told the board.

The opportunity to ask questions was in addition to an 11-page letter that had been sent to the planning commission six days prior.

The letter – provided to The Advertiser – addressed what NextEra has identified as “unsupported assertions” about operations, safety, and complaints, among other things.

“We have listened as the Concerned Citizens group has tried to overwhelm the Township and the public with unsupported assertions about wind development generally, and NextEra and its plans specifically, making it difficult to address all of the assertions and their validity during the Township meetings,” the introduction of the letter reads.

Among other things, the letter from NextEra refutes many of the claims related to setbacks (noise and safety) and asserts that concerns about health issues are masking the fact that some are annoyed by them.

“We understand the fear of change and the relatively unknown (when communications companies applied for permits to build cell towers years ago, many townships in Michigan saw similar reactions), but that fear cannot drive regulation. We still must regulate based on facts and science.”

At the same time, however, NextEra said in its letter that it would not provide the commission with any safety manuals for the wind turbines that will be located in Tuscola III nor would it provide its own safety guidelines. The company did say it would make the documents available for viewing.

Garner said Friday the letter is intended to clearly answer questions and address issues that have been raised in recent months.

“It is clear a small, vocal group of wind energy opponents intends to create delay at every point possible to block wind development by offering unsupported assertions, treating them as fact and forcing wind developers and Township officials to prove why they are incorrect,” Garner said.

“Some of the assertions relate to NextEra Energy Resources and its proposed project, and some relate to wind turbines and their impacts. We are trying to address those assertions, as well as questions we have heard from the Township, and believe doing so in writing, with supporting documentation, is the most effective way to do that, and the most helpful for the Township.”

The next scheduled meeting of the Almer Township Planning Commission is June 1. The Almer Township Board of Trustees meets Monday (May 9) at 7 p.m.