MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI – The energy company behind a controversial proposed wind turbine farm at the border of Muskegon and Kent counties decided to cease development on the project, according to company officials.
Melissa McHenry, director of external communications with American Electric Power (AEP), told MLive/Muskegon Chronicle Tuesday, Dec. 24 that the project was no longer viable because of several stringent restrictions placed on one-half of the turbine site in Casnovia Township, located on the eastern edge of Muskegon County.
But township officials said AEP didn’t give an accurate account of what transpired.
Township Supervisor Kelli Ashbaugh said the six-month special use permit granted to AEP expired. She said the company presented a revised project plan that did not address the township board’s safety concerns.
If anything, Ashbaugh said, the revised plan had fewer safety and nuisance control measures than what was originally presented to trustees when the the six-month permit was granted to AEP in late April.
That’s what led the board to cease ongoing negotiations with AEP, according to minutes from meetings on Nov. 11 and Nov. 25.
Residents opposed to the project have called the decision a major win.
AEP wanted to build 31 wind turbines across portions of Casnovia Township in Muskegon County and Tyrone Township in Kent County. Developers hoped the electricity-generating project, dubbed the Kenowa Ridge Wind Farm Project, could be built by 2020.
Last week, McHenry said AEP sent letters to homeowners who had signed leases about the decision to stop pursuing the project.
AEP took control of the project after it bought Sempra Energy’s wind turbine assets in 2019. Sempra Renewables had proposed the project in 2018.
The project later became the source of heated debate between residents, township officials and AEP.
In November 2018, the Casnovia Township Planning Commission recommended that the township board vote to deny a special use permit required for AEP to complete the project.
Several Casnovia Township residents also had been outspoken in their opposition to the wind farm, saying it would produce excessive noise and could create hazards for local wildlife. Others worried about the annoying shadow flicker (the strum of shadows and reflections cast by the whirling blades of wind turbines) from turbine blades.
A group of those residents mounted a strong resistance that ultimately ended in the project’s demise.
On April 23, the Casnovia Township Board of Trustees voted 3-2 to approve a special use permit for the project with a long list of conditions attached. Township Clerk Jennie Powell, Treasurer Gayle Brock and Trustee Dan Winell all voted in favor of the permit, while Ashbaugh and Trustee Jason Jorgensen voted against it.
Two lawsuits were filed against Casnovia Township following the board’s decision. One was filed by residents and the other by AEP over the special use permit conditions.
A recall attempt against Brock, Winell and Powell followed. That election is tentatively scheduled to take place in May. Brock has since resigned her position as treasurer.
On Nov. 11, AEP proposed a legal settlement that the company hoped would resolve the lawsuit and improve upon the conditions of the special use permit.
According to the approved minutes of the Nov. 11 meeting, each trustee was disappointed to see that AEP had removed or disregarded several of the conditions placed on the project.
The board unanimously voted against accepting the agreement but directed its attorney to continue negotiations.
On Nov. 25, the board recognized that the six-month special use permit had expired and voted 3-2 to end settlement negotiations with AEP, according to the approved minutes from the special meeting.
Brock also resigned her position at that meeting saying the AEP debacle had left her feeling “harassed and bullied here.”
“It’s been such a hostile environment lately and I’m ready to stay at home,” said Brock, according to the Nov. 25 minutes.
Both McHenry and Ashbaugh confirmed that AEP’s lawsuit was still pending litigation, but Ashbaugh said the township likely would seek a motion to dismiss the case within the next few weeks.
Steve Sower, a Casnovia Township resident who helped organize the resistance, said he was happy AEP had changed its plans.
If AEP completed the project, Sower said a wind turbine would be placed across the street and within a few hundred feet from his home.
“I think it’s a big win,” Sower said. “The main issue here was not that Casnovia Township hates green energy, it’s the fact that the siting of the turbines was too close to homes. The layout of Casnovia Township is not sparse enough for homes and buildings (to) warrant a viable project without a lot of problems.
“It’s less about green energy for us than it was about the health safety of the township.”