The Almer Township Planning Commission is required to make a recommendation today about an application for a special land-use permit, exactly 100 days since NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C. filed the paperwork for a $200 million wind turbine project.
That means it all comes down to a meeting set for 6 p.m. this evening (Jan. 4) at the Tuscola Technology Center in Caro (1401 Cleaver Road).
Already, the planning commission has spent more than six hours in public meetings on the application, spread out over two meetings on Nov. 10 and Dec. 7. The commission’s recommendation will go to the board of trustees, which will make the final decision.
At the Dec. 10 planning commission meeting, representatives of Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources were asked to provide more details about:
The cost of decommissioning a collection of turbines or single windmill, third-party participation and the overall decommission process.
An economic study specific to Almer Township and more details concerning property values in the wind project.
Modeling the area impacted by sound from a wind turbine using a different method than what’s currently in place.
NextEra Energy Resources’ officials responded to planning commission Chairman Robert Braem on Dec. 24 with a 36-page response. He distributed it to the rest of the group on Dec. 25.
“The response can be basically summarized as nothing new,” said Jim Tussey, Almer Township board trustee and planning commission liaison. “It can best be described as subterfuge – they use a lot of words without really a lot of data to support them.”
Information was provided on the estimated cost to tear down a single wind turbine ($675,000) and the economic impact on the area.
But there were some sticking points, Tussey said.
For example, the planning commission wanted specifics on the impact of wind turbines on the values of homes located near the machines. Tussey said what NextEra Energy Resources submitted didn’t answer the question directly.
Then, there’s the issue of sound.
In a nutshell, Tussey said NextEra Energy Resources is claiming Almer Township is illegally trying to zone out wind turbines with requirements related to how much sound one of the industrial machines can make in a certain period.
Tussey said that’s not true because state law prohibits local jurisdictions from zoning out wind turbines altogether.
“But the state allows for townships to create their own safety ordinances,” Tussey said.
“Almer Township has not zoned out turbines, they just possibly controlled what types of turbines can possibly be placed and NextEra doesn’t like that,” Tussey said.
Tussey said a possible solution could be that NextEra Energy Resources uses smaller turbines in the $200 million project known as Tuscola III Wind Energy Center.
The project has been in the works for at least three years (based on wind lease agreements filed with the Tuscola County Register of Deeds) and calls for more than 50 wind turbines spread over Almer, Ellington, and Fairgrove townships.
Wind turbines would be new to Almer and Ellington townships, so many questions have been raised in the last year about their potential impact.
A debate has emerged throughout the process: farmers’ rights to put wind turbines on their property versus those who say they are more concerned with the overall health, safety, and welfare of the entire community.
In December, officials in Almer and Ellington townships both passed one-year moratoriums on wind turbine projects to slow the process down, essentially citing a need to better understand the potential long-term impact of the project. Attorneys for NextEra Energy Resources have questioned the legality of the moratorium in Almer.
But because NextEra Energy Resources filed its application for special land-use permits in September, it is due an answer by the end of today, per Almer ordinance.
“The planning commission will be reviewing the applicant’s application for compliance, and I think as you read the response from NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C., they have admitted that they cannot comply with the ordinance,” Tussey said.
“So I would expect there will be a vote early on.”
Bryan Garner, manager of communications at NextEra Energy Resources, said the company didn’t think it was appropriate “to get ahead of the township or speculate about what might occur,” regardless of the outcome of this evening’s meeting.
The next Almer Township Board of Trustees meeting is set for Jan. 10.
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