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County commissioners, DTE disagree over wind farm finances

HURON COUNTY – The Huron County Board of Commissioners rejected approving financial documents from DTE regarding its acquired wind farm near Harbor Beach in the county’s last meeting of April.

DTE Energy had purchased 10 wind turbines that make up Phase 1 of the Big Turtle Wind Farm from Heritage Sustainable Energy in January.

Commissioner Mary Babcock, the legislative committee chair, said the commissioners want DTE to follow the same tax schedule rules, escrow account deposit scheduling, and to change the wording of provided financial documents so that it would operate the same as when Heritage owned it.

“We’ve been learning how to fine-tune these agreements so we don’t put ourselves in jeopardy,” Babcock said.

During their meeting, the commissioners, public guardian Steve Allen, and director of building and zoning Jeff Smith had issues with the language in the financial documents, which were vaguely worded. Their desire is to make sure the documents are clearly worded to show that DTE stands behind whatever financial issues the wind farm may face.

Babcock said the documents would have had the county be the debtor on these turbines, not DTE, which DTE spokesperson Cindy Hecht said is not the case.

When Heritage owned and operated this phase of the wind farm, it would make deposits of $200,000 per month into a Chemical Bank account called the Huron County Deposit Control Agreement account to cover decommissioning costs, which DTE plans on continuing to do.

As part of the agreement in taking the wind farm over, DTE plans on replacing the decommissioning surety bond with an identical one in order to fund decommissioning at the end of a project’s life.

While funding the Chemical bank account, DTE is seeking approval from the county government to replace that account with a corporate guarantee issued by the company.

Hecht said their practices are consistent with other DTE wind parks in Huron County in holding the energy company financially responsible for projects.

The commissioners have since had further meetings with DTE officials regarding their requested changes to the documents. Babcock said the officials they spoke with said they did not have the authority to carry out the requested changes and they would run it up the flagpole.

“We didn’t get any further than last week,” Babcock said.

Babcock is sure the commissioners will speak with DTE officials again soon as they are supposed to send a revised version of their agreement back to the commissioners for approval.