The Almer Township board of trustees denied an application for special land use permit that would have cleared the way for a Florida-based energy company to erect 19 wind turbines in the community.
The board voted 5-1 after the Almer Township planning commission approved a motion on Jan. 4 to deny the application submitted by Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C.
The company needs special land use permit (often referred to as a “SLUP”) approval to construct the 19 wind turbines in Almer Township that are part of a proposed $200 million project called Tuscola III Wind Energy Center. The project consists of 52 total turbines and also includes parts of Ellington and Fairgrove townships.
“Almer Township’s denial of our SLUP was not only disappointing, but is unreasonable,” said Steven Stengel, director of communications at NextEra Energy Resources. “Tuscola III is a well-considered project that meets or exceeds all the terms of the local wind ordinance.
“It’s designed to maintain the health and safety of residents and beneftis everyone in the community with clean energy, good jobs, added tax revenue and economic activity for local businesses.”
Jim Mantey, supervisor, Almer Township, said the township board “has a pretty consistent, long history of accepting the recommendations of the planning commission,” which recommended the denial.
Mantey said he recognized the duties of the board of Trustees and that the decision was one with “many potential consequences.”
Mantey then sought comment from his fellow board members.
Peggy Reavey, clerk, said she read the entire application through and she doesn’t have “any real issue…other than I think the planning commission has worked tirelessly on this and now all of the sudden we’re back at the beginning.”
Patricia Witkovsky, treasurer, said she had attended many planning commission meetings where the topic of the wind turbine project and ordinance were discussed.
“When I went to the last one, I was kind of surprised that when you asked NextEra for answers, that maybe the answers they gave did not satisfy the complete question that was asked,” she said. “I was real concerned about that.”
The Almer Township Planning Commission voted 3-1 on Jan. 4 to deny recommending the township board of trustees approve the application that would allow NextEra Energy Resources (NEER) to construct the part of Tuscola III that is supposed to be in Almer.
NEER filed the application for special land use permit on Sept. 23, 2016, and the planning commission had 100 days to make a recommendation one way or another, per Almer ordinance. Jan. 4 was the 100th day.
NEER needs approval of the application from the township before it can begin construction of Tuscola III.
At the Jan. 4 meeting, planning commission members Norm Daniels and Jim Tussey took issue with NEER on several aspects of its application and supplemental information submitted subsequently in November and December.
“It’s my opinion that the applicant has not met the requirements of the Almer Charter Township zoning ordinance,” said Daniels leading into a prepared document outlining his reasons for making a motion to recommend denial of the application.
Planning commission members took particular issue with sound, levels of insurance coverage, shadow flicker, and wildlife, before ultimately recommending the board of trustees deny the application.
In addition to Reavey and Witkovsky, other board members weighed in on the recommendation from the planning commission.
Board Trustee Jim Tussey — who also serves as planning commission liaison — said he still had many questions about the application, from decommissioning and shadow flicker to sound.
Jim Rosenstangel, another board trustee, said he agreed with the planning commission recommendation and his biggest issue was with the application’s proposed sound limits.
During the last several months, officials from the township have debated what is allowed with regard to wind turbine sound levels.
The topic arose when it was identified that the application essentially calls for an average sound “not to exceed” 45 decibels within a certain period. Tussey said that would allow wind turbines to exceed 45 decibels (and rely on average sound over a specific amount of time instead). Tussey has maintained township ordinance allows for a maximum of 45 decibels.
NextEra officials, however, have argued the application is in compliance because the township’s ordinance is “ambiguous” with regard to interpretation of the 45-decibel requirement.
“I think that’s what we should stick with…shall not exceed 45 decibels,” Rosenstangel said.
Board member Art Graff said he “was really impressed” with the planning commission, and appreciated how planning commissioner Daniels summarized his issues with the application.
“It’s not whether the leaseholder gets the turbine or not,” Graff said. “For me, it’s the accountability of the wind turbine company — not only accountability to the leaseholder, but accountability to the township itself in all aspects.”
Mantey then summarized the various ways the township felt NextEra came up short in its application.
“For all these reasons, and based on the competent material, and substantive evidence on record, the township board finds that denying the application is in the best interest of the public health, safety, and welfare,” Mantey read from a prepared resolution.
Graff made the motion to adopt the resolution to deny the application, which was seconded by Rosenstangel.
The board approved the motion 5-1 with Reavey casting the lone vote against the resolution. Trustee Brian Schriber was absent.