St. Clair County officials are easing into talks about setting local regulations for windmill developments.
Two meetings are set for next week for township supervisors and other planning officials about the process to possibly develop an ordinance that townships could adopt down the road.
County Board Chairman Jeff Bohm said the discussion is so far “strictly informational.” He cited recent discussions with entities like DTE Energy, adding there could also be a solar energy component to the county’s talks.
“There’s a couple companies in St. Clair County soliciting property owners for (a) solar installation or (to) lease their land, so it’s coming to their townships,” Bohm said. “And a lot of people are asking questions. It’s in the early stages. We just want to get in front of this stuff.”
Dave Struck, executive director of the county’s Metro Planning Commission, said they’re still in the exploratory part of the process and are “starting to look at some model ordinance language that could be put together.”
They haven’t gotten too deep yet, he said, though laws tend to address setbacks and noise, or “things that are generally put in place to ensure you’re protecting the safety and welfare” of local residents.
And other than next week’s meetings – set for 6:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday in the Donald Dodge Auditorium of the county administration building, 200 Grand Rive Ave. – Struck added there’s no time table to get through this process.
“I know some of the (county) commissioners have had discussions and they’re looking ahead at what opportunities might exist,” he said.
Bohm said “it’s a big educational piece” for local officials. “We’re not going to ask them to adopt anything,” he said. “We’re going to talk a lot of about how the taxing works on it.”
Township supervisors around the area said they were aware of the meetings to talk wind and renewable energy laws.
Fort Gratiot Supervisor Jorja Baldwin said she was “for sure” attending. She said she agreed it would be good to have a model to follow but that it hasn’t necessarily come up.
“I think it’s important to have our county on the same page if someone does approach us,” she said.
Kenockee Township Supervisor Keith Ward said he was aware of the county’s sit-downs but wasn’t sure if he was going.
He said though he’s not personally for wind farms, they’ll have to “let the democratic process play out” over local laws. He said Kenockee Township has been approached by what he called consultant or scouts for both wind and solar energy developments in the past several months.
“They want to know what the ordinances say,” Ward said. “I know what they’re doing. They’re looking for the path of least resistance.”
Though he mentioned having touched base with DTE, Bohm didn’t get too specific over what potential developments may come through St. Clair County.
DTE spokeswoman Cindy Hecht said any contact with the county on the subject has been “purely informational,” and that “there are no projects planned in St. Clair County as of this moment.”
Bohm also cited how much property regional utility companies own in the area and added it benefits local taxable values.
“How do you grow your SEV (state equalized value) and is it working with these utility companies to get to these mandates?” Bohm said, referencing next week’s meetings. “… If they’re going to be in our backyard, it’s really our job as a county to facilitate meetings to get everybody in the room.”
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