The roughly 800-page application filed by Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C. to build part of a $200 million wind turbine project in Almer Township didn’t go far enough, local officials said Wednesday.
The Almer Township Planning Commission voted Wednesday 3-1 to deny recommending the township board of trustees approve the application that would allow NextEra Energy Resources (NEER) to construct the “Tuscola III Wind Energy Center.”
NEER filed the application for special land-use permit on Sept. 23, 2016, and the planning commission had 100 days to make a recommendation one way or another, per Almer ordinance. Wednesday was the 100th day.
NEER needs approval from the township before it can begin construction of Tuscola III.
Planning commission members Norm Daniels and Jim Tussey took issue with NEER on several aspects of its application and supplemental information submitted subsequently in November and December.
“It’s my opinion that the applicant has not met the requirements of the Almer Charter Township zoning ordinance,” said Daniels leading into a prepared document outlining his reasons for making a motion to recommend denial of the application.
Immediately after the meeting, Ryan Pumford, project manager, NEER, said “this was a recommendation to the board and obviously the board has the final say.”
“I don’t know whether the board is going to take it up at their Jan. 10 meeting or after, but that’s the next step – we go there,” said Pumford, who took an opportunity at the beginning of the meeting to explain the company has “submitted a very complete application that complies with Almer Township’s ordinance.”
Wednesday’s meeting was relatively short at just over one hour.
Almer Township Planning Commission meetings in November and December were more than three hours each.
Despite a TV report from the meeting that claimed the meeting “saw tempers flare,” there were zero public comments before or after the meeting.
Township officials – along with those from NEER and the township’s engineering firm Spicer Group – seemed to agree that the health, safety, and welfare of the entire community were top priorities.
Disagreement arose, however, with regard to how the project as defined in the application would impact those aspects of the community.
Sound, once again, was discussed at length.
Township officials claimed that NEER’s application calls for an average sound “not to exceed” 45 decibels within a certain period. Tussey said that allows NEER wind turbines to exceed 45 decibels (and rely on the average instead). The township ordinance allows for a maximum of 45 decibels.
Pumford said NEER is in compliance because the township’s ordinance is “ambiguous” with regard to interpretation of the 45-decibel requirement.
It wasn’t enough for Daniels.
“It is a generally known fact that excessive noise is annoying and harmful to humans,” Daniels said when giving his reasons for recommending denial. “It is clear that those who adopted this ordinance that we’re considering determined that noise levels should not exceed 45 decibels.
“The ordinance does not allow for the averaging, varying levels of sound,” Daniels continued.
“We as a planning commission are not here to rewrite the ordinance, but enforce the ordinance as written, and it mandates a maximum sound level of 45 decibels.”
Other issues were identified by Daniels as he read his statement.
The ordinance requires every wind turbine be insured for $2 million.
As Daniels pointed out, NEER representatives have indicated to township officials that wind turbines cannot be insured on an individual basis. As an alternative, NEER has proposed insuring the entire project for $20 million.
“The current application is for 19 turbines,” Daniels said. “Nineteen turbines times $2 million each requires insurance coverage of $38 million.” Daniels said the application failed to meet ordinance requirements as a result.
Daniels continued outlining his reasons, next moving on to the issue of shadow flicker – the phenomenon caused by wind turbine blades and the sun’s rays casting strobe light-like effects on a house.
Though NEER said it will work with those in the community to address the problem, even go so far as to shut wind turbines down for certain periods if necessary, Daniels said it wasn’t enough.
“It seems unreasonable that nearby residents should be required to cover their windows for periods of time as suggested by the applicant to avoid the annoyance of shadow flicker,” Daniels said.
Daniels finished by alleging NEER hasn’t gone far enough to address area wildlife.
“The applicant’s response is that they intend to monitor mortality rates of wildlife,” Daniels said. “That response does not convince me that there is no risk of harm to wildlife in the area.”
Daniels – along with Tussey and Jason Emery – voted to deny recommending approval of the application. Commissioners Darwin Rushlo and Kelly Avery abstained due to potential conflicts of interest.
Robert Braem, chairman, Almer Township planning commission, voted to recommend approval – the lone commission member to do so.
He attempted to address each of the issues raised by Daniels.
Braem said NEER officials stated that the insurance coverage could double within a year, and that would meet the ordinance requirement with regard to insurance.
He also said NEER officials had said they would “curtail” wind turbine usage (shut them down temporarily) to avoid shadow flicker problems where and when appropriate.
Braem also indicated the economic study provided by NEER officials “looked reasonable” in its attempt to satisfy that requirement as outlined by township representatives.
None of the other planning commissioners responded to Braem’s comments before the vote was taken.
Norm Stephens, an Almer Township resident who is a member of the group known as the Ellington-Almer Concerned Citizens, said the result of the meeting “was no surprise.”
He commended Almer Township Supervisor Jim Mantey for his appointment of Tussey to the planning commission. Tussey has an extensive background in engineering, and Stephens said it showed in how he was able to handle himself during the meeting.
“He’s an engineer, he’s worked with acoustics, he understands that, and did an excellent job of explaining his position, and it came across (Wednesday) loud and clear,” Stephens said.
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