As talks of wind energy continue, commissioners approved a fee structure designed to ensure that Isabella County is not left holding the bill for high costs that could be incurred through planning, building and operating wind farms.
Interest in the area as a site for wind energy developments has grown, with at least one company – Isabella Wind – acquiring lease agreements with property owners as they move toward what could be a 400 megawatt operation.
Commissioners have revamped ordinances —including addressing community concerns regarding setbacks and noise levels— but had not until last week created a fee structure for applying for and maintaining farms and enforcing turbine ordinances.
Last week commissioners approved instituting a $30,000 application fee for the special use permit required to build a wind energy grid, or $1,000 per 66 foot or taller turbine if built individually.
Additionally, developers will be required to pay one escrow fee to cover unforeseen costs associated with building the infrastructure, and another escrow fee to cover the cost of ensuring compliances with ordinances.
“We will be doing leg work, … we’ll be hiring a third party engineer; $30,000 (application fee) covers the process,” Community Development Director Tim Nieporte told the board last week.
If a project wins approval, the first escrow account will cover legal costs, any studies required to build, third-party experts and more; a developer may be required to replenish the escrow account and failure to do so would stall the project until funds are available.
Once a project is complete, the escrow funds are returned to the developer.
Finally, a second escrow fee will be required of project builders to cover the costs expected for monitoring and enforcing compliance through the life of the farm, including decommissioning the infrastructure.
“We could see a big project,” Neiporte said, noting the county does not have the skills to address issues that could come up including light flickers or noise complaints. “We’d have to hire out.”
Escrow fees will be determined on a project-by-project basis, according to the resolution.
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