BAD AXE – The Huron County Planning Commission came closer to its vision for the county’s future in renewable energy development Wednesday night.
The county will likely restrict commercial solar energy development, following discussion at a master plan workshop meeting.
And the wind energy policy going into the Huron County Master Plan will “strike a balance between decommissioning and the possibility of repowering, at the end of each utility-scale wind energy facilities’ useful life,” according to a draft of a proposed policy.
Alan Bean of the Spicer Group of Saginaw supplied three potential statements for each renewable energy development option – wind and solar.
The county has experienced a lot of division as a result of wind energy policy, both among members of the public and public officials, who hope to avoid such a scenario with solar.
The solar option that gained consensus with the planning commission recognized the following:
• That 75 percent of the county’s land is enrolled in PA 116 – the state farmland preservation program.
• That the state has a 15 percent renewable energy portfolio standard.
• The presence of the ITC Thumb Loop.
• The importance to agriculture land to Huron County’s economy and community.
“The installation of commercial solar energy facilities is an existential threat to the county’s agricultural economy as it removes productive agricultural land, and therefore, this type of development is not supported,” the draft states.
Bean also supplied maps showing areas not conducive to solar development: wind overlay districts, waterways, wetlands, state land, parks, sand/gravel pits, grasslands, woodlands, prime farmland and prime farmland if drained.
Planner Charles Bumhoffer said farmland in the county has been preserved for use as farmland, not for use as solar development.
Solar development, according to Bumhoffer, would be “gross misuse of some of the best farmland in the world.”
Everyone on the commission agreed with Bean’s proposed statement restricting solar development, except for Planner Jeffery Krohn.
He was in favor of allowing solar development in areas that are not prime farmland.
But Planner Robert McLean said he did not want to open the door on solar.
“I hate to take people’s land rights away, but I don’t want to open the door a crack,” McLean said.
If there is a demonstrated need for solar development, the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act does not allow the county to ban solar development.
Not only does Huron County have the infrastructure with the ITC loop, but the state has a mandate for renewable energy.
Planning commission Chair Bernie Creguer wondered whether the mandate would be considered a demonstrated need.
Planning officials indicated that since half of the county’s townships are self-zoned, restricting solar development in county-zoned townships would not equal a county-wide ban on solar.
Planner Robert Oakes said that although Huron County has the best wind in the state for wind development, it does not have the best sunlight for solar development.
“We’ve done our duty with the wind,” Oakes said.
Regarding wind development, there was a lengthy discussion on whether the county could legally call for the decommissioning of wind turbines once they have reached the end of their expected efficacy in 20 years.
If developers spend more than 50 percent of the cost of the turbine to repair it, it’s considered rebuilding, and it would have to comply with whatever is the current wind ordinance, said Jeff Smith, county building and zoning director.
The 2015 wind ordinance is more restrictive than those that any turbines currently constructed in the county have been built under.
Planners also discussed removing overlay districts in the future.
One thing that the planners have no control over is whether landowners renew leases with wind developers in 20 years.
They also noted it’s impossible to tell what state energy policy will be when the wind turbines’ lifespans end.
Planner Carl Duda said it’s important to listen to voters, who turned down two wind developments by referendum in May.
Two townships – Lincoln and Sherman – have voted to form their own planning commissions and leave county zoning. Both townships had proposed wind developments that were rejected by voters.
“How may townships will go to self zoning if we continue to bring in turbines?” Duda asked.
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