BRANCH COUNTY – DTE Energy presented, to the Branch County Commission, its plans for creation of a 50 to 70 turbine wind farm in parts of four northwest townships during the Thursday work session.
The presentation was met with a 15 minute rebuttal from Pam Reed, spokesperson for an opposition group, Concerned Citizens of Branch County,whose members carried placards outside the Branch County Courthouse and filled the commission’s small meeting room.
County Commission Chairman Ted Gordon made certain they understood the county has no control over the project and that any control rests with the townships.
Michael Sage, DTE Marketing Program Manager for Renewal Wind Energy Development, showed a map “of the footprint” of the area in Sherwood, Matteson, western Union, and the northwest section of Batavia Townships comprising around 60,000 acres.
“Right now we have about 180 people who have signed up, comprising just over 31,000 acres,” Sage said.
Even under lease for easements not all land can be used. There are constraints for zoning restrictions and set backs, limitations for aviation, and wildlife restrictions.
“There is only about 14 to 18 percent of the space you have under lease that can be used,” Sage said.
The company does not yet have a plan of how many turbines it would propose which is partially dependent on the Michigan grid operator, ITC, and what interconnections it would allow. That would help determine the location of substations and an operation center.
“We are just in the development stage,” Sage explained. He suspected the number would be 50 to 70 of 1.5 to 1.7 megawatt turbines each weighing 70 tons.Sage promised the company would limit the height to 500 feet at the tip of the turbine blades. All are remotely controlled and monitored he said. There would need to be 16 foot wide service roads to and around each tower. The two inch power cables would be buried five feet underground, below any farming or drain tile. DTE would purchase five to seven acres for each substation.
Once DTE has its plans, it would take about nine months for a decision from ITC before it makes an actual determination where it would place each turbine. Then it could file for permits.
“We are in the first stages which could take a couple of years,” Sage said.
If permitted, Sage said it could take as little as four to six months to build and put each turbine into operation. He said there is enough wind in the area to make the project feasible.
DTE now manages 274 wind turbines in its service area, most in the Thumb region in Gratiot and Huron Counties.
All power would go on the grid to be used where needed as determined by the regional grid operator, MISO.
Under questioning by Commissioner Leonard Kolcz, Sage said lessees not only get land payments but they also receive 4 percent of the grid value of power generated from their turbines on an aggregate percentage basis from the farm. The retail rates are set by the Michigan Public Service Commission and ultimately paid by rate payers to the private for profit company. Those under 20 acres inside the park area can’t be considered for a lease but can sign a participation agreement and receive some payment Sage said. Sage noted that taxing authorities receive personal property taxes on all the equipment. Huron County received a total of $8.3 million in taxes for wind turbine farms in 2017. There are proposals in Lansing that will limit and cut personal property taxes for utilities in the future. Reed said DTE has fought its property assessments in Huron County and has not produced the economic benefits promised by the company. She added that the turbine land would be reassessed as commercial/ industrial and impact property values of farms. Reed said by looking around the state, DTE cannot be trusted and is presenting “half truths at best.” She said there is nothing in writing on the 500 foot height limit.
She referred to a University of Michigan graduate student study which found those with leases in Huron County benefited, but others did not.
Reed also noted that in Monroe County there was concern and condemnation after DTE asked for a major reduction in the value for its nuclear plant by 60 percent which will have a major impact on local budgets.
The Matteson Township resident said DTE and its project would infringe on her rights without compensation, and with installation of the giant towers on adjoining property, limit the enjoyment of their property.
Matteson, Batavia, and Sherwood Townships are trying to come up with zoning regulations to limit and restrict turbine construction. Union Township does not have zoning.
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