An energy company planning to build wind turbines in Sanilac County is expecting to make some progress in the next few weeks that could allow the project to move forward.
Exelon is planning on constructing 68 wind turbines across Bridgehampton, Marion and Washington townships. In addition, Custer Township would have supporting equipment, but no actual turbines.
The 499-foot turbines have generated much controversy in the past year, delaying the project from moving forward.
Residents have been concerned about setback changes in the townships’ ordinances made to accommodate Exelon’s project, as well alleged conflicts of interest among members of the planning commissions and board of trustees who would personally benefit from Exelon’s project.
But on Tuesday night, Bridgehampton Township planning commission will meet to discuss possible changes to their zoning ordinance in respect to the turbine project, and on Aug. 16 the planning commission will meet again to schedule a public hearing to address Exelon’s special land use application that would allow for the turbines.
“Having a meeting to set the hearing date is what we need to move forward with the project,” said Kristen Otterness, Exelon spokeswoman. “We have followed the township’s process to obtain the necessary permits and the application is in compliance with the township ordinance, now we just really want the planning commission to schedule the public hearing to address it.”
Exelon sued Bridgehampton Township after the planning commission voted to table a special land use public hearing in early May. The commission wanted to wait until after a referendum vote during the primary election on Aug. 2.
The referendum will decide how residents and landowners are notified about special land use hearings.
Exelon claimed the tabling of the hearing was a political play by anti-wind opponents who hoped to stop the project.
Bridgehampton Township Supervisor Michael Haggerty said the local government is just following the zoning ordinance process that is in place.
Haggerty said if the if the referendum fails, then residents and landowners will be required to be notified about a special land use hearing via mail. If it passes, residents will be required to be notified about a hearing via mail and in person.
“It’s just about making the process easier or not, this isn’t actually a vote on the turbine project,” Haggerty said.
But in Marion Township, residents will be asked to vote on the turbine project during the Aug. 2 election.
Former Marion Township Supervisor Arnold McVittie said there will be no progress on the project unless a wind overlay district to accommodate the wind farm project is approved during the election. McVittie stepped down amid the turbine controversy.
“The referendum, if approved, would allow us to add 24 wind turbines in Marion Township in addition to the 16 that the township has already approved to be built,” Otterness said. “The township already approved to have 16 turbines built in the overlay district that already exists, but if residents vote to expand the overlay district, that would allow us to build more.”
In Washington Township, the planning commission already approved an application for four turbines to be to be built.
In Custer Township, the planning commission approved the company to build necessary supporting equipment for the wind turbines.
“This project will bring $20 million in tax revenue to Sanilac County over the life of the project,” Otterness said. “And the life of the project is between 25 and 30 years.”
But for some residents, the tax revenue is not enough to convince them to support the project.
Tracy Creguer, 42, of Bridgehampton Township, said he thinks the wind turbines are eyesores for the community.
“I love the country and I moved here to get away from the noise of the city,” Creguer said. “I want to see deer running around my property and I want to just see farmland when I look out, I don’t want to hear the noise of the turbine.”
Creguer said he also did not like how the local governments and the companies went about pursuing the project. He felt there was a conflict in interest in regard to township officials voting on the project who had lease agreements with Exelon to have turbines on their property.
“I lived in Delaware Township and I moved to get away from all of the turbines up there,” he said. “I hated them. A lot of the bigger farms will benefit from having the turbines on their property and getting that lease payment, but I will not benefit from them at all.”
Don Rickett, of Rickett Farms in Bridgehampton Township, has signed up to have one to two turbines built on his property.
“The turbines will generate money for the county and I don’t see any negatives that would out-weigh that benefit,” Rickett said.
While Rickett Farms has 1,200 acres spread out around the county, the turbines will sit on a small portion of a 60-acre farm in Bridgehampton Township.
Rickett said he doesn’t yet know how much he will receive through the lease payment.
Thom and Mary Twiss, of Sanilac Township, will not have any turbines on the land their home is on, but have signed up to lease their land to Exelon in order to build one turbine on a 40 acre plot of land they own in Bridgehampton Township.
“The area we will have the turbine is about three to four miles away from our house, so it won’t bother us and it is not near where anyone lives,” Thom Twiss said. “However, if the turbines are built near homes, I can see how that would be a nuisance.”
Twiss said while he hasn’t been told how much he will be paid to lease his land to Exelon, he knows it will not be a large financial gain.
Ken Bradstreet, a consultant for Wolverine Power Cooperative, is working to find out why residents and landowners in the townships are opposed to the project.
Wolverine Power Cooperative will be the company that buys and distributes the energy generated by the Exelon turbines.
Bradstreet said any energy produced by the Exelon turbines in Sanilac County will not be used in the Thumb area. He said the energy will be sent to the western and northern regions of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula for use.
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