BAD AXE – Huron County planners are frowning upon the use of the term “wind park” by wind developers.
Planner Charles Bumhoffer criticized the phrase as stated in a DTE Energy year-end report at this week’s Huron County Planning Commission meeting.
The report was entitled, “DTE Energy Thumb Wind Parks 2017.”
“I didn’t know we had any wind parks in our county,” he said. “We have wind energy conversion facilities …”
Bumhoffer added: “I would have to ask the DTE Energy people, are your wind farms open to the public, without restricted access? Do the wind parks contain items usually associated with parks, such as trees, shrubs, playground equipment, swings, sandboxes, play-scape, barbecue grills, picnic tables, restrooms?”
“Somebody at the public relations department at DTE Energy is really putting a stretch on things,” he said.
He eventually made a motion that the planning commission should send DTE, and any other developer that uses the term “wind park,” a letter urging the company to change its language when referring to their developments in communications with the county.
The motion passed unanimously.
The planners also reviewed proposed changes in the commission’s bylaws. One point of contention came was the bylaw committee’s recommendation that commission officers must have three years of experience.
Those that support the three-year minimum, which equals one term, said that those with experience on the commission know of the history of the board and how things work.
Robert McLean, who is in his first term and also was elected vice chair of the commission in April, said such a rule is “discriminatory, exclusionary and short sighted.”
He argued that some planners have experience on township planning boards.
County Corporation Counsel Stephen Allen said not all discrimination is bad except for that which is prohibited by law.
“Any time you draw a line, it’s discriminatory,” he added.
Allen said there are good reasons for requiring experience, giving examples of a bachelor’s degree taking four years and police academy requirements to be a cop.
Planner Robert Oakes said it’s important for planning commission members to “leave our agendas out there and do the right thing.”
“Our job is not to be for or against wind turbines,” he said, adding that so far, the commission’s actions have kept the county out of court.
Bumhoffer noted that no experience is necessary to be the President of the United States.
Planner Ken Walker pointed out that the Huron County Board of Commissioners has no such rule.
“Had there not been two nominations for chair, this would not have come up,” he added.
McLean, along with Chair Bernie Creguer were both nominated for the position last spring.
The planners will discuss the bylaws further next month, and the final draft of the bylaws will be voted on at the March meeting.
Repairs to wind facilities
Another concern voiced at Wednesday’s meeting was that NextEra Energy Resources, Inc. has not reported to the county on any repairs to its Pheasant Run Wind facility.
NextEra built two parks, one of which was sold to DTE.
Earlier this year, DTE reported to the planning commission on numerous pitch motors, gearboxes and blade bearings that had been switched out at its park.
County Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith said DTE officials planned to return in the spring with an update to the commission on blades.
Planners were concerned because no news had been received from NextEra regarding repairs.
“Is there anything in our ordinance that requires that we monitor repairs of the windmills?” Planner Terry Heck asked Smith.
Smith replied that there is nothing in Huron’s wind ordinance that addresses the county’s right or ability to monitor repairs on turbines.
He added that such a provision could be considered in future ordinance updates.
Twelve months after a wind facility is constructed, the developer is required to give a post construction compliance update.
“That’s the only thing that is required by our ordinance,” Smith said.
A noisy debate
In other business, the planners discussed whether to allow a debate between two acoustical experts regarding wind turbine noise at the next meeting.
Rich Lampeter, acoustician from Epsilon Associates, will be at the Feb. 7 planning commission meeting to present an overview of Big Turtle Phase I and II sound compliance reports.
Robert Gaffke, who has a long-standing complaint regarding a Big Turtle turbine near his property, asked the commission whether he could bring another acoustician to “keep an eye on” Lampeter.
A few planners insisted that Gaffke be allowed to bring an acoustician, which they said should be given more than the three minutes than members of the public are entitled to.
They also discussed putting that person on the agenda and giving them equal time to speak.
Deerfield’s post construction compliance report
Officials from Deerfield Wind Energy, LLC provided an overview of its post-construction compliance report.
The planners questioned a portion of the report that referred to the blades as having been produced in China.
Deerfield officials said the blades had, in fact, been produced at the Vestas Colorado plant, although the company does have operations in China.
Some 50 blades at the park were found to have problems with adhesive when it first went online last year.
Deerfield officials also submitted raw data on the wind park’s sound study.
The planning commission will meet next Feb. 7. Alan Bean of Spicer Group will be present to facilitate work on the Huron County Master Plan.