ALMER TOWNSHIP – Case closed.
The 18-month long lawsuit against Almer Township officials by NextEra Energy Resources LLC was dismissed this week by Judge Thomas Ludington, United State District Court Eastern District, Bay City.
The latest court decision is on the last part of a multi-county lawsuit filed in February 2017 by NextEra regarding Tuscola Wind III’s development, when the Almer Township Planning Commission enacted a moratorium for more time to make a decision and review ordinances.
Tuscola Wind III is the next segment of the wind farm that was designed to be connected to Tuscola Wind I and Tuscola Wind II that had been completed previously.
“Hallelujah, we are done,” said Almer Charter Township Supervisor Jim Mantey. “I say that with a little reservation because NextEra has deep pockets that go all the way to their ankles. And, Uncle Sam has made sure that they do. I think wind development is such a lucrative business because of the subsidies companies are given so they have money (for legal fees).”
Mantey noted the last legal issue was if the township had violated the Open Meeting’s Act, which requires public business be done in a public forum, because of a couple of emails that were sent.
“The judge decided the emails weren’t a violation,” said Mantey, who noted the judge dismissed or denied all of NextEra’s other allegations previously.
“However, they could decide if they want to appeal,” Mantey said.
While the court case was going on, township officials reviewed renewable energy ordinances and made some changes.
“We took action to redraft our ordinance in a way that we feel is fair to everyone. If they (NextEra), want to reapply for a special land use permit to put turbines here they can,” said Mantey. “NextEra or any other wind developer can apply. We are open to development. We haven’t done anything that would prevent a developer from coming in. They would just have to comply with our new ordinance.”
One of the key changes in the ordinance is turbine setbacks. The setback for a non-participating landowner or road right-of-way is four times the height of the turbine unless the affected participating and non-participant land owner waives the requirement. The maximum tribune height from base to tip is 500 feet.
“Our new ordinance would probably not allow for as many turbines because of the setback guidelines it has for property lines. Our mission, as a board, is the health, safety, and welfare of our residents,” said Mantey. “The ordinance requires the turbines be further from homes that are non-participants in wind development. There would be fewer turbines, but it still allows for wind development.”
The court’s ruling against NextEra covers both Almer Charter Township and Ellington Township.
“The township is pleased with the judge’s decision. The case is still open for appeal at this time so we are continuing to strategize with the township’s attorney to ensure we are taking the proper measures to protect the township,” said Ellington Township Supervisor Russell Speirs. “The township board is looking forward to spending more time on other needs within the township.”
The energy company’s plan for Tuscola Wind III was to develop 55 turbines spread out between Almer, Ellington and Fairgrove townships.
“There were court deliberations on that project recently, and we are reviewing the court’s decision and considering all of our options with the project,” said NextEra’s Communication’s Manager Bryan Garner.
NextEra is the world’s largest generator of renewable energy from the wind and sun with revenues of about about $16.2 billion, according to its website.