ELLINGTON TOWNSHIP – A $200 million wind turbine project planned for Tuscola County took another step closer to becoming reality Tuesday when the Ellington Township Planning Commission voted to recommend changes to the community’s wind ordinance.
In a 4-1 vote, the commission recommended changing setback requirements – how far wind turbines can be from houses and property lines and how much noise they can make – to be more strict.
The issue was before the planning commission because the Ellington Township board of trustees asked it to review wind turbine setbacks and either recommend changes or no changes.
“We have been advised we should have some type of action, up or down, that would indicate what our board feels we should do with wind energy,” said George Mika, chairman, Ellington Township Planning Commission. “So tonight we are back at it, trying to see what the board wants to do.”
The planning commission has been tasked with reviewing the township’s wind ordinance as NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C. plans to build the $200 million Tuscola III “wind farm” in Ellington, Almer and Fairgrove townships.
Earlier this year, the commission decided to recommend the overall ordinance stay intact with no change.
On April 4, however, Ellington’s wind ordinance was once again sent back to the planning commission. The request from the board of trustees was different because planning commission members were asked to specifically review if changes should be made to setbacks. A four-month moratorium was put in place at the same meeting.
The next planning commission meeting was May 26. Eugene Davidson, one of four members of the planning commission, made a motion to alter setbacks by 80 feet and lower the amount of decibels (the allowable level of noise). The motion died for lack of support and no other motions were made, meaning the commission took no action.
However, the board of trustees said at its June 14 meeting that it wanted the commission to make a clear recommendation, one way or another.
Before discussing specifics of any changes, commission member Julie Holmes read a prepared statement to those in attendance.
“Personally, I’m not a fan of wind turbines,” said Holmes. “I do think they take away from the beauty of the landscape and the skyscape, but I also know we need to progress into the future and have renewable energy for our children and our grandchildren.
“Change is a hard thing to accept for most people, but we must move forward with renewables to sustain future generations,” she said.
Holmes pointed out that the original wind ordinance adopted in February 2015 by Ellington Township was developed by a “professional company,” that there were several public meetings and that she spent “many independent hours” researching turbines.
“Only after several months after the ordinance was adopted did any of the concerned citizens come forward with their concerns,” Holmes said, adding that the existing ordinance is “adequate to protect the township as a whole.” Mika, however, recommended learning from the experience of Huron County, which has more turbines, has had them longer than Tuscola County and adopted a more strict wind ordinance last November.
Mika said he had planned to raise the issue at the last planning commission meeting, but that he didn’t feel the board would support it at the time so didn’t pursue it.
“If the folks in Huron County feel that those numbers are good numbers…then I think we should pay attention,” Mika said. “We should learn as much as we can from anybody possible.”
Ellington Township’s current ordinance, adopted last year, allows 55 decibels of sound at the house and a setback of 1,320 feet from the home, compared to surrounding areas, including Huron County, whose ordinance doesn’t exceed 45 decibels with a setback restricted to at least 1,640 feet from the home.
Despite Mika stating he originally wanted to suggest to the board adopting the same ordinance as Huron County, he later asked why the board wouldn’t want to at least have similar changes being considered in Almer Township, which is also looking at its wind ordinance in light of Tuscola III plans.
The Almer Township planning commission is set to hold a public hearing on changing setback to be three times the height of a wind turbine from a non-participating dwelling – a house where residents live and don’t’ have a deal with a wind company – and a sound level not to exceed 45 decibels from a non-participating dwelling.
The Ellington Township planning commission voted 4-1 to recommend the change. Planning commission member Joddy Ehrenberg cast the “no” vote.
Because of the recommended changes, a public hearing must now be held before the recommendations are made to the board of trustees, which still would have to accept and approve the changes.
The meeting is tentatively scheduled for July 19.
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