LANSING – A complaint filed Thursday with the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette alleges DTE Energy representatives have made fraudulent claims in connection with local zoning ordinances in northern Lapeer County.
Blissfield-based Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition Inc. filed the complaint on behalf of North Branch Township resident Traci Martin.
The complaint cites three examples of DTE representatives mentioning “exclusionary zoning” in discussions related to zoning ordinances as they relate to any potential wind energy developments in Burnside, Burlington and North Branch townships. All three instances were reported only in The County Press.
The complaint “requests that the MPSC order DTE Energy and its agents to cease and desist from making fraudulent claims of ‘exclusionary zoning’ anywhere in the state of Michigan.”
“As these clear public statements demonstrate, we believe, DTE Energy, a regulated utility under the purview of the MPSC, has established a deliberate pattern of deception by making fraudulent claims of exclusionary zoning in their recent dealings with township governments in Lapeer County and by continuing to rely upon the now-abandoned 2008 State Wind Energy Siting Guidelines,” according to the complaint, which was provided to The County Press.
Kevon Martis, a former planning commissioner in Lenawee County who now runs the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition (IICC), provided a copy of the complaint to The County Press, along with local township officials. It was addressed to MPSC board members and CC’d to DTE officials.
Cindy Hecht, a DTE Energy spokesperson, provided a written statement in response.
“The claims made in this letter are false,” the statement reads. “The author of the letter is the leader of a wind opposition group.”
“With wind ordinances under discussion in several Lapeer County townships, DTE has provided local officials with examples of wind ordinances that balance respect for private property rights and community well-being. In addition, DTE has provided documents such as maps to communities, including Burnside Township that illustrate the impact of draft ordinance language and how it will eliminate the entire township from wind park development,” the statement reads.
The County Press in early October reported that property owners in northeast Lapeer County have signed 20 agreements with DTE Energy that are specific to “wind energy development.”
DTE officials say the company is in the early stages of talking to area landowners about a possible project five to 10 years from now.
The 20 DTE “wind energy development” easement agreements recorded by the Lapeer County Register of Deeds were signed between June 26 and Sept. 26, and encompass a total of 60 parcels in Burlington, Burnside and North Branch townships.
Michael Sage, program manager, renewable energy development at DTE, told The County Press on Nov. 27 that representatives of DTE continue to meet with potential leaseholders for the project.
Concurrently, local government officials are preparing.
North Branch Township officials enacted a one-year moratorium on wind energy developments to allow for time to craft amendments to its zoning ordinance with regard to wind and solar energy developments. Burlington Township officials enacted a two-year moratorium (the township doesn’t have a zoning ordinance or planning commission).
Burnside Township is set to vote on proposed amendments to its zoning ordinance at its next meeting on Dec. 18.
The topic of “exclusionary zoning” – the main point of contention in IICC’s complaint – has been raised numerous times, particularly in Burnside Township.
The Michigan Zoning Enabling Act prohibits exclusionary zoning, which prevents regulation from being established that eliminates a land use “in the presence of a demonstrated need for that land use.”
As recent as Nov. 27, DTE Regional Manager Carla Gribbs told the Burnside Township board of trustees that ordinance amendments related to wind energy (such as setback requirements, or how far wind turbines can be from things like houses) and under consideration do “not consider the exclusionary nature of the zoning ordinance.”
On Nov. 6, Sage also sent a letter to township officials that mentions the “exclusionary effect” of proposed setback requirements.
“DTE Energy is attempting to construct a project that would cover parts or all of Burnside, North Branch and Burlington townships in Lapeer County,” IICC’s complaint to the MPSC states. “Local residents and township officials have responded to this proposal by using their rights under the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act to regulate wind as they see necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of their residents.
“One of DTE’s responses has been to accuse these jurisdictions of attempting to adopt ‘exclusionary zoning,’ an illegal zoning strategy,” the complaint continues.
In its statement, however, DTE says it “recognizes that many communities have limited experience regarding wind energy. Based on our experience developing and operating wind energy facilities in Michigan, DTE is committed to helping communities understand how different ordinances can influence potential future wind projects.”
“DTE representatives have consistently conducted themselves with integrity and respect in meetings and in writing – including when referencing matters regarding community zoning,” the statement says.
Exclusionary zoning isn’t the only topic of which IICC takes issue via the complaint.
The other is reference to 2008 State Wind Energy Siting Guidelines.
Specifically, the IICC complaint cites a comment made by Brian Corbett, manager of communications for DTE, in a Nov. 15 story that appeared in The County Press.
Corbett said “there are zoning guidelines that were established by the state of Michigan as far back as 2008 to help local governments develop zoning regulations for wind energy that protect public health, safety and welfare without being overly restrictive or exclusionary.”
However, as Martis notes, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) concluded in 2010 that “no evidence… suggests that a one-sizefits all approach (such as the 2008 siting guidelines) would work for the entire state and that decisions regarding appropriate setback distances and noise levels should remain under the province of local planning and zoning authorities (at this time).”
DTE did not address this issue specifically in its statement.
According to its website at iiccusa.org, IICC is “a nonprofit corporation dedicated to raising public awareness of the potential impacts from the construction of industrial wind turbines in our region.”
Martis said he first connected with Martin when he spoke at an event she hosted Oct. 17 at her North Branch Township residence.
About 200 people attended the informational event about wind turbines. In addition to Martis, other speakers included state Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Williams Township (in Bay County) along with others from Tuscola and Sanilac counties.
Martis said the complaint was filed on her behalf since she is a utility ratepayer in northern Lapeer County. Martin told The County Press she consented to the complaint being filed on her behalf and stands behind it fully.
Chad Dempsey, supervisor of Burnside Township, said Friday before press time that he was aware of the IICC complaint and had been sent a copy, but hadn’t had a chance to fully review it. He said he would pass it on to the township’s attorney, Tim Denney.
Chris Howland, treasurer of Burlington Township, said Friday before press time that he had yet to receive a copy of the complaint. Amy Bridger-Snoblen, North Branch Township clerk, also said she hadn’t seen it.
An inquiry to the MPSC’s spokesperson was not returned by press time.
At the conclusion of its statement, DTE says that “Since the letter was sent to the MPSC, we will work with the MPSC to address any questions the MPSC may have.”
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