BAD AXE -- Although a wind turbine manufacturer has denied the Huron County Planning Commission's request for access to a safety manual, some planners still want specific information contained in the manual.
Residents and planning officials are concerned that turbine manufacturer Vestas and Sempra Renewables, owner of the Apple Blossom wind park, are trying to hide something by not making the manual accessible.
Christian Anguis, project manager for the Apple Blossom wind farm that is currently under construction near Pigeon, told the commission that the manual remains confidential, and is for assembly and commission operations only.
The wind farm is in compliance with the county's 2010 wind ordinance, under which it was approved.
Planning commission chairman Bernie Creguer says that due to that fact, there is nothing the planning commission can do to change how turbines in the wind park are constructed or installed.
Requesting the information, he said, "is outside of our (zoning) responsibility here … as long as they comply with the ordinance, there's nothing we can do."
Planner Terry Heck, who took his seat on the commission after the project had been approved, accused planners who did approve the project of being lax.
He said he couldn't imagine project approval without the information found in the manual.
"Someone dropped the ball," he said.
Heck later made a motion to write another letter to Apple Blossom and Sempra requesting specific information, such as required setbacks from dwellings, noise regulations and turbine heights.
The motion was tabled because members wanted a written motion specifying what the commission would ask for. Heck will confer with Jeff Smith, county building and zoning director, and have to motion ready to vote on at next month's meeting.
Some of the concern among planners and citizens springs from the fact that these turbines are 3.45 megawatts. Turbines that large have never been built in Huron County.
Those agreeing with Heck that specific information should be sought included Sami Khoury, chairman of the Huron County Board of Commissioners, who is also an ex officio member of the planning commission. Planner Carl Duda also spoke in favor of asking for the data.
The project consists of 29 turbines, which will produce 100 megawatts of electricity.
Anguis reported that 75 percent of the project's turbines have been topped out with nacelles and blades, but there is more work to do prior to commissioning. Of those, 25 to 30 percent are mechanically complete.
The project's first turbine was commissioned a couple of days ago, Aguis added.
Khoury and other planners were also concerned about failing turbine blades, especially during the current harvest season.
Khoury questioned how close people could get to the turbines while farming, adding that many farmers plant crops right against the turbines.
"Our friends and neighbors work under these big machines," he later added.
"Blade failures are becoming a regular occurrence," Planner Robert McLean said, while suggesting that turbines be shut down during harvest season.
Creguer said that in the case of DTE Energy, turbines could be shut down if landowners request it.
Anguis was unable to answer whether that was the case for the Apple Blossom project.
But, he said, those who are working on turbine construction are willing to stop whatever they are doing if a landowner needs to use the space that they are in.
Planner Jeffery Krohn said a turbine breaking is something he has thought about while out in the field.
A blade broke last week in Huron Township, which is self zoned, on turbine No. 51 in the Deerfield Wind Energy Project.
Smith told the planners that the site has been contained, and there is a security guard on site 24-7 so that no one can get close to the turbine.
He said that operations officials with Deerfield Wind Energy would likely present a root cause analysis to the planners as a courtesy.
Planner Charles Bumhoffer referenced a Tribune article that stated the broken blade was an "isolated incident," as told to the Tribune by Vestas officials.
"It was hardly an isolated incident," Bumhoffer said, citing the fact that three blades have malfunctioned in the park since construction wrapped up last year. He also provided an analysis of what that meant in parts per million.