BAD AXE — Approval of a new 39,000-acre wind farm is now in the hands of the Huron County Board of Commissioners.
The Huron County Planning Commission on Wednesday approved the district by a 7-2 vote in a packed Huron County District Courtroom.
But voters could have the final say.
If the commissioners approve the project, the issue could then go to a referendum if a valid petition is filed, planning commissioners said.
DTE wants to build 50 to 70 new turbines over 61 square miles across Lincoln, Dwight, Sigel and Bloomfield townships.
There was a lot of discussion prior to the vote, including whether or not it was a conflict of interest for planning commission members with existing wind contracts.
Chairman Clark Brock pointed out that no one on the commission had contracts or land within the proposed district.
“We’ve had this conversation in the past, and we, always as a board, have said that it’s not a conflict of interest if you’re not within that area.” Brock said.
Commissioner Terry Heck then started to poll each commissioner on whether they had wind contracts.
“It’s none you your business if I have a wind contract or not” Commissioner Joel Weber said.
“It’s part of my business if I’m on this board,” Heck said. “To maintain the integrity of this board.”
The commission’s bylaws maintain its integrity, said Jeff Smith, Director of the Huron County Building and Zoning Office.
Heck and Commissioner Carl Duda voted against the application.
Michael J. Wagner, manager of Wind Development for DTE, presented the application prior to the vote.
DTE cannot put a turbine on any land that does not have a wind energy lease, he said.
Absence of development in the county and strong prevailing winds make some areas “ideally suited for large scale development of wind energy conversion systems,” the application states.
Many residents who have signed leases would like to opt out of the project, but according to a legal opinion that the commission reviewed Wednesday, the commission/county could be held liable for spot zoning.
Spot zoning can occur when officials zone a small parcel or area for uses contrary to its surrounding areas.
About 70 people attended the meeting, with several spilling into the hallway.
Many people spoke for and against the wind farm during the public comments portion of the meeting.
Proponents praised renewable wind energy and said it brings revenue and jobs into the county.
Those against the turbines said wind turbines detract from Huron County’s landscape and cause noise. They also questioned how the windmills would be deconstructed once they are no longer viable.
The district spans the following townships in acreage: 22,080 in Lincoln, and 5,760 each in Dwight, Sigel and Bloomfield.
Officials said the issue will go before the county board of commissioners at its July 26 meeting.