BAD AXE — The Huron County Board of Commissioners approved a wind overlay district for Sherman and Sigel townships Tuesday morning.
The entire project, Huron Wind LLC, proposes turbines in Sand Beach and Delaware townships, which are self zoned.
After a 5-2 vote, some commissioners stated that they approved the district in hopes that it would ultimately go to referendum so that the people can decide.
Under the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, the only way to allow for a referendum would be if the board approves the district, after which enough valid signatures must be collected.
If the board voted against it, there would be no public recourse, and the county may be open to litigation on the part of wind developers, Corporate Counsel Steve Allen said.
Commissioner Ron Wruble said that the law falls short in only allowing a referendum challenge to a yes vote.
Commissioner David G. Peruski said he did not vote for the district because he liked the project proposed by NextEra Energy Resources, but because he would like to see the issue go before the people.
Commissioners John Bodis, Rich Swartzendruber and Clark Elftman joined them in support of the district, with Commissioners Sami Khoury and John A. Nugent voting against it.
The board also approved an amendment to the resolution creating the overlay district, in which NextEra agreed to pay a host community fee so that revenue generated from the wind turbines would equal the figures set by the Michigan Renewable Energy Collaborative (MREC) table.
NextEra officials promised to pay this amount at a recent Sherman Township meeting on wind energy, and repeated the vow in a letter of intent to the board.
The MREC figures are higher than the amount set by the Michigan Tax Tribunal, and would apply to all jurisdictions, and include township, county and school taxes.
In his letter to the board, project manager Ryan Pumford also offered to apply to the Federal Aviation Administration to pursue technology that will allow the flashing red lights of the turbines to appear only while aircraft are overhead.
This was included in the amendment as well.
The board accepted NextEra’s correspondence to amend the resolution by a 6-1 vote.
There was lengthy discussion among commissioners and Allen about how upcoming referendums would affect the state of wind development in the county.
Sherman and Lincoln townships are both county zoned and also will hold the majority of turbines in separate upcoming development projects.
NextEra’s Huron Wind LLC proposal consists of 65 turbines, 45 of which would be located in Sherman Township.
It is expected to produce 150 megawatts.
The DTE overlay district includes approximately 25,500 acres of land with DTE wind energy agreements across the four townships.
Approximate acres in the overlay district include 16,900 in Lincoln, 4,100 in Sigel, 2,000 in Dwight, and 2,500 in Bloomfield.
DTE expects the project to produce between 100 and 150 megawatts and include 50 to 70 wind turbines.
It is expected that all county-zoned townships will vote in a May referendum on the board’s decision to approve the DTE overlay district.
Lincoln Township also faces a May referendum protesting its Board of Trustees’ decision to form its own planning commission and become self-zoned.
It would not be surprising if a referendum came about in Sherman Township because its board recently passed a resolution to start its own planning commission — a move officials say is an attempt to limit wind development.
Regarding the overlay district protest referendums, Wruble said it’s unfortunate that all 16 county-zoned townships could decide the fate of two townships — Sherman and Lincoln.
Self-zoned Sand Beach Township will also have a referendum challenging recent sound limits imposed on its wind ordinance.
NextEra officials have called the Sand Beach ordinance changes “exclusionary” for wind turbines.
And the county is currently considering a five-year moratorium on wind development, which will prohibit licensing, permitting and construction of turbines for five years.
If that’s approved by the board, and enough valid signatures are collected on a petition challenging the decision, a referendum on that could take place.
Allen told the Tribune that he would recommend that the DTE and NextEra projects be carved out as exceptions to the moratorium, since they have been applied for, and significant work has been done on them.
Representatives of the wind companies say project benefits include tax revenue, landowner payments, job creation and clean energy.