SHERMAN TOWNSHIP — A NextEra Energy Resources official promised to pay $1,000 a year to anyone who owns property in the proposed Sherman Township wind overlay district Thursday at a special township meeting.
Ryan Pumford, project manager for Huron Wind LLC, told a packed township hall that the energy giant will pay residents who do not have windmills on their property, no matter how much or how little property they own.
Bryan Garner, manager of communications for NextEra, told the Tribune that the offer is also good for the remainder of the district, which is proposed for parts of Sigel, Sand Beach and Delaware townships.
Of the 65 proposed turbines, 45 are planned for Sherman Township. It will remove less than 100 acres of agricultural land from Sherman Township, Pumford said.
Anyone with questions about whether their property is in the overlay district can email Robert Adle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That wasn’t the only financial commitment Pumford made during the question and answer session with residents and township officials.
He said all taxes paid for the 30 years that the project is expected to last would be assessed according to the Michigan Renewable Energy Collaborative (MREC) table.
“For the life of the project I will use the MREC table. You can get that in writing,” Pumford said.
“The way it would work out, if the state table prevailed at the tax tribunal, then this extra payment would be in the form of a host community payment, which is not a tax payment, per say, it’s an additional payment.”
This applies to county and school taxes as well, Pumford said.
“I will pay all taxes as if the MREC table were the prevailing table.”
While Pumford made his points about the payments for all landowners and turbine taxation being assessed according to the MREC table, the words “get it in writing” were heard throughout the hall.
Two Huron County Commissioners who attended the meeting are skeptical of Pumford’s promises as well.
“We’ve heard that before,” Commissioner Ron Wruble told the Tribune. “Not necessarily from this company, but from other prospective projects.”
He noted that NextEra is contesting the value of all of the company’s turbines in the state with the Michigan Tax Tribunal.
“If they have the wherewithal, and these projects are worth it to them, then why don’t they do that to the existing project they already have in place?”
“It’s not about money,” he said. “It’s about money to some people, but it’s more about quality of life and a way of life.”
“(Money) might have a bearing on some people, but people on the opposite side of the equation don’t care if there’s more tax dollars spread out (within the overlay district).”
Commissioner David G. Peruski told the Tribune he was at the meeting to listen.
He said at this point, he considers Pumford’s words to be “hearsay,” and that he has no comment on how this would affect the wind debate until he sees what NextEra proposes in writing.
Treasurer Ladonna Volmering pointed out that school taxes paid by NextEra would only apply to a school’s debt.
In the case of Harbor Beach Community Schools, this would only last the remaining life of its debt, which Volmering estimated to be about 10 years.
Turbines are taxed as industrial personal property, and their value depreciates over time, Pumford said.
For the most part, audience members wrote questions on index cards, which were read by township board members.
Many questions had to do with contracts and the perceived secrecy surrounding them.
“Our signed landowners are able to talk freely about the turbines,” Pumford said.
He added that there would be no gag order attached to contracts with landowners with or without turbines on their property.
One person questioned whether NextEra can sell the contracts and create a lien on farmland.
“Put a lien on the farm? No, we don’t do that,” Pumford said. “As far as the contracts, one of the things you get with NextEra — again, not every wind developer is created equal.
“Our business motto is to build, own and operate the project. … We want it to be a NextEra truck that you see throughout the life of the project.
“We don’t sell the contract to other people. We do mortgage the contract and use that for financing, but that doesn’t put a lien on your property. It doesn’t affect your property at all. It’s just a mortgage of our lease hold rights.”
A major complaint among residents regarding turbines is the blinking red lights that “steal the night sky,” as stated by township resident Pat McCullough.
Pumford said that NextEra plans to apply to the Federal Aviation Administration to get permission to use aircraft detection lighting systems, which only light up if there is a plane overhead.
If turbines come in, McCullough said, “It’s never going to be the idyllic agricultural area it once was.”
McCullough, a former state senator, also said that $92 billion in taxpayer’s money has been spent to encourage wind development.
He called it the “most expensive, least efficient way to generate energy.”
McCullough also criticized the turbines for potential health hazards.
The World Health Organization says that turbines should not be within one mile of human habitation, McCullough said.
Kim Camp, who lives near Harbor Beach, said that if it goes to referendum, people need to show up at the polls.
“Whatever you feel, get out and vote,” she said, noting that she is not in favor of the turbines.
Some residents questioned how the turbines would be decommissioned.
Pumford said NextEra has been in the wind business for 28 years.
The company is currently decommissioning 700 kilowatt turbines, and replacing them with 2 megawatt turbines. This will triple the landowners’ income, he said.
“The landowner agreements we have,” Pumford said, “have a dollar-per-megawatt fee associated with it, and people who have turbines receive the greater of a minimum number per megawatt installed or percentage of revenue, whichever happens to be greater.”
He added that NextEra will bond the necessary funds for decommissioning each turbine.
Pumford said NextEra’s customer that is lined up for the electricity is the Michigan Public Power Agency, a nonprofit conglomeration of municipal energy providers, to which Sebewaing Light and Water belongs.
The entire project would bring 250 construction jobs, and six to 10 full-time salary jobs, Pumford said.
Any road or crop damage the project causes will be repaired and paid for by NextEra, Pumford said.
In the first year, Pumford said, the project will bring $250,000 in tax revenue, with $3.6 million coming in over the lifetime of the project. Lease payments will total $24 million over the life of the project.
The Sherman Township Board of Trustees will have a meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to discuss taking back its zoning from the county. Clerk Kathi Jahn said it’s unknown whether any decision will be made.
And the Huron County Board of Commissioners will again address whether to approve this overlay district at the Dec. 13 meeting, since it was tabled at the previous meeting, pending examination of the overlay district boundaries.
On Dec. 14, the Huron County Planning Commission will host a hearing on a proposed five-year moratorium on wind development.