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No. 1 story of the year: Huron County still leads the state in wind energy

Residents and officials in Huron County spent most of 2016 debating wind development.

Proposed wind parks by DTE Energy and NextEra Energy Resources divided the Huron County Board of Commissioners, the Huron County Planning Commission, and some township boards at various times throughout the year.

Dozens of residents spoke passionately both for and against wind development at numerous wind-related public hearings and during public comment at local and county meetings.

Here is a summary of each project:

DTE’s Filion Wind Park

DTE first approached county officials about a new wind park for Lincoln, Sigel, Dwight and Bloomfield townships in late February.

Acres in the overlay per township include 16,900 in Lincoln, 4,100 in Sigel, 2,000 in Dwight and 2,500 in Bloomfield.

The utility has easement contracts for wind development with about 200 landowners in the overlay and is talking with other landowners and developers about additional land.

About 50 residents wanted to be able to opt out of the overlay district this spring, some of them being landowners already under easement with DTE.

An independent legal opinion labeled such a concept as “spot zoning.”

Spot zoning can occur when officials zone a small area or parcel for uses contrary to surrounding areas, and the practice in generally frowned upon.

The planners received this information and voted on the overlay district in July, recommending that the board approve it 7-2.

When the county board gathered to vote on approval of the district in August, they were greeted with the news that the Lincoln Township board had taken steps to take back its zoning.

The board sent the issue back to the planners with the information about Lincoln Township’s desire to self-zone.

The planning commission again recommended that the board approve the overlay district.

The county board voted 4-3 in October to approve the district.

Petitions circulated in county-zoned townships to protest that decision, and it will go to referendum May 2.

There will also be a referendum then challenging Lincoln Township’s decision to self-zone.

Huron Wind LLC

The NextEra project was officially proposed in late summer.

NextEra’s Huron Wind LLC project consists of 65 turbines, 45 of which would be located in Sherman Township. The remainder of the turbines would be located in Sigel and Sand Beach townships, and Delaware Township, Sanilac County.

That is, if things go NextEra’s way in various referendums that could take place this spring.

There will be a May 2 referendum in self-zoned Sand Beach Township protesting changes to sound restrictions in its wind ordinance.

NextEra officials have said these changes would prohibit wind development in the township.

Sherman Township recently started the process of becoming self-zoned. This could also be challenged in a spring referendum if sufficient signatures are gathered.

Meanwhile, the Huron County Board of Commissioners approved the wind overlay district for Sherman and Sigel Townships this month.

That decision could be challenged in a referendum in county-zoned townships as well.

The Moratorium

The board ended the year by imposing a yearlong moratorium on wind development. The moratorium will not apply to the NextEra or DTE projects.

The turbines proposed by NextEra and DTE would be the first to be constructed under the county wind ordinance restrictions made in 2015.