BAD AXE — As plans progress for hundreds more wind turbines in Huron County, residents continue to fire their opposition at both developers and county officials.
This year, wind energy developers will push Huron’s turbine count toward 500 and beyond.
On Wednesday, residents skewered county planners for allowing that to happen, claiming they aren’t protecting residents and telling of the “hell” and “living nightmare” they’re now stuck with in the state’s unofficial wind capital.
Margo Barry lives in Oliver Township, where the only parts without wind turbines are Elkton and portions of the southeast corner of the township.
“You and every township board in this county has traded our health, safety and welfare for the almighty dollar,” an emphatic Barry said as she chastised planners.
“Because it seems like that’s all you’re considering with these turbines is the dollar and not the effect that they have on the people in this community. … Shame on you for not protecting this county.”
Aesthetically, Barry says pristine farm fields are gone, and in place is a “blight of huge white towers and spinning blades.”
“And our quality of life has been taken away, replaced with a pollution of never-ending noise, shadow flicker, red blinking lights and health issues for many,” Barry said.
For Barry, the 328 turbines already here and hundreds on the way will indelibly change the landscape.
Jon Elliott of Pigeon said he “lives in hell” near the 44-turbine Pheasant Run project, which mixes with another 44 in the Brookfield Wind Park that span five townships in western Huron County.
Nearby, in Winsor and McKinley townships, Geronimo Energy plans to add 30 turbines. They would be fitted with longer blades, a rotor diameter covering about 80 more feet and a megawatt output about twice that of nearby projects.
“I don’t want to have those right at my back door,” Elliott said, raising his voice toward planners. “I might as well put a for sale sign on and have you guys buy the place.”
It wasn’t Nancy Krohn’s first rodeo, either.
“It’s a living nightmare around here now,” Krohn, of Elkton, said.
To developers and construction companies, new wind projects mean jobs; but to residents, “this is our life,” Krohn said.
“We live here,” she said. “The people of Huron County cannot afford any more turbines.”
The comments hit a nerve for Jeff Smith, the county’s building and zoning director.
“It bothers me because we worked hard in my office (on the new wind energy ordinance),” Smith said.
Officials took nearly two years drafting and adopting a new wind energy ordinance.
Smith, at the forefront, worked with planners, an acoustics firm, the county’s attorney, other officials, residents and wind developers, seeking information locally, statewide and across the country to write a turbine rulebook for 16 county-zoned townships.
What resulted was a 22-page ordinance almost triple the length of a 2010 revision. Wind developers said it was so strict it would zone turbines out of the county. Smith acknowledged the impact stricter rules would have on wind projects, but stood by the ordinance, saying it’s “reasonable” and will protect everyone in the county. He cited a want for responsible development and consistency.
On Wednesday, repeating a notion he made months ago before new rules were in place, Smith said the ordinance is the best out there.
“It’s in place to protect people, and it does protect people,” he said.
He went on, putting the blame on higher-ups for the drive for wind energy projects and explaining why developers eyed Huron County for siting.
Smith alluded to a 2008 state mandate that required utilities to generate 10 percent from renewable energy sources by the end of 2015, and the Michigan Public Service Commission designating the Thumb region as the primary wind energy resource zone in 2009.
The increase in wind energy projects was both state-mandated and pushed by President Barack Obama, Smith said.
At the end of 2015, the IRS extended a corporate renewable electricity production tax credit available to developers to Dec. 31, 2019. The credit applies to a project’s first 10 years of operation, with a rebate amount of 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour.
“But the biggest thing is the landowners who signed up,” Smith said. “They started the process with developers. It started with landowners, and people seem to forget that.”
Seeking landowner interest is one of the first steps for developers. DTE Energy, for its newest project planned for Huron County, recently submitted a listing of wind energy easements and leases to the county. Hundreds of landowners in Bloomfield, Dwight, Lincoln and Sigel townships signed up. Hundreds, if not thousands more, signed on to lease their land for other wind projects across the county, inking contracts with DTE and other Michigan and out-of-state developers.
Developers cite that landowner interest in decisions to build, along with wind energy as a means to preserve farmland and a way to diversify their portfolios with cleaner energy.
Still, the county remains divided since the first turbine turned in 2008. Neighbors not participating in wind projects continue to tell of issues like noise, alleged health issues, shadows cast in their kitchens and living rooms during the day, the hundreds of red blinking lights at night and, sometimes, simply plain disgust of the structures.