UPPER THUMB – An organization has filed a complaint against DTE Energy alleging representatives made fraudulent statements to township officials in Lapeer County.
DTE officials, who are persuing wind energy developments in Lapeer County, denied that claim in an email to the Tribune Monday.
The complaint stems from DTE’s interest in constructing wind turbines in Burnside, North Branch and Burlington townships.
Kevon Martis, executive director of the Interstate Informed Citizen’s Coalition (IICC), filed the complaint with the Michigan Public Service Commission on behalf of a North Branch woman last week.
Martis states in the complaint that due to recent political events in Huron, Sanilac and Tuscola counties, wind energy officials are seeking development to regions such as Branch, Midland, Gratiot, Bay and Lapeer counties.
Regarding the proposed development in Lapeer county, “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,” Martis’ letter states.
“One of DTE’s responses has been to accuse these jurisdictions of attempting to adopt ‘exclusionary zoning,’ an illegal zoning strategy,” he added.
Martis compares DTE’s approach to that of NextEra Energy Resources in Tuscola County’s Almer Township.
A federal judge sided with the township recently in a suit that NextEra had filed alleging exclusionary zoning on the part of Almer officials.
Huron County Corporate Counsel Stephen Allen said at last week’s county planning commission meeting that NextEra did not meet its burden of proof in the lawsuit.
Martis alludes to the ruling as case law in the complaint he filed on behalf of Traci Martin of North Branch.
He says the judge “resoundingly rejected” NextEra’s claims regarding exclusionary zoning and other issues.
“Using Judge (Thomas L.) Ludington’s ruling as a guide in the matter of Lapeer County,” Martis stated, “We know that Lapeer County has electricity and therefore there is no demonstrated need for new generation in Lapeer.”
“Thus it is essentially impossible to make a claim of exclusionary zoning against proposed generation projects. And Judge Ludington’s ruling makes it clear that uneconomical turbine-to-property line setbacks are also not exclusionary,” Martis said.
DTE spokesperson Cindy Hecht released a statement in response to Martis’ claims.
“The claims made in this letter are false,” Hecht said. “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.”
Hecht said DTE 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,” she said.
“DTE representatives have consistently conducted themselves with integrity and respect in meetings and in writing – including when referencing matters regarding community zoning. Since the letter was sent to the MPSC, we will work with the MPSC to address any questions the MPSC may have,” Hecht concluded.
The IICC describes itself as a bipartisan non-profit corporation located in Blissfield that represents people living inside Michigan’s existing and proposed wind energy developments. It has been vocally critical of wind energy development since its inception.
NextEra had proposed turbines in 2016 for Sherman, Sigel and Sand Beach townships in Huron County.
Huron County voters in May rejected the proposed Sherman/Sigel wind overlay district, and voters in Sand Beach Township supported changes to the township’s zoning ordinance that placed sound restrictions on turbines.
A DTE proposal to build turbines in northeast Huron County failed by referendum in May as well.
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