Official: Consumers Energy ‘wanted to write’ wind turbine laws

GAGETOWN– Consumers Energy “wanted to write” wind turbine laws when looking to Michigan’s Thumb to build a wind farm, according to a top elected official from northern Tuscola County’s Elmwood Township.

Chris Graff, supervisor, Elmwood Township, said township representatives were approached by representatives of Jackson-based Consumers Energy to craft wind ordinances as the company was looking at the Thumb region to build what would become Cross Winds Energy Park.

The approach Graff said was used by Consumers Energy is relevant now as questions have been raised by citizens about relationships between representatives from energy companies and government officials in Michigan’s Thumb region.

“We had Consumers’ a few years ago,” Graff said. “And they wanted to write the (wind turbine-related) ordinance for us, which we didn’t feel comfortable (with).”

Graff said the company “pretty much” wanted to write a draft of an ordinance, hand it to township officials, and have it be put in place.

Dan Bishop, director of media relations, Consumers Energy, provided a written statement via email when asked specifically about Graff’s comments that the company “wanted to write” Elmwood Township ordinances.

“Consumers Energy is committed to working in a respectful manner with local elected representatives and residents.  When we began the process of developing our Cross Winds Energy Park, we evaluated wind strength and other factors in several Tuscola County townships, including Elmwood Township, where we believed our second wind project in Michigan could be successfully located.  

In the statement, Bishop points out that Consumers ended up building Cross Winds in Akron and Columbia townships. Consumers officials told The Advertiser last week that it has taken measurements in the area as part of plans for what could be another wind turbine park.

The statement concludes with:

“We maintain a respectful relationship with Elmwood Township elected representatives and residents.  We are honored to share our subject matter expertise on energy issues and do so upon request and in a manner fully respectful of final township authority.  Assertions that we act in a contrary manner are simply incorrect.”

Representatives of the group Ellington Township Concerned Citizens in nearby Ellington Township have alleged a conflict of interest between NextEra Energy Resources Inc. and Township supervisor Duane Lockwood.

NextEra Energy Resources (and/or a subsidiary) plans to build Tuscola III – a wind farm with a $200 million price tag – in Ellington, Almer, and Fairgrove townships.

Lockwood is a leaseholder, but only recused himself from any township and wind turbine-related business on March 1, while official meeting minutes dating back more than a year show he was providing updates about the project on the public record.

“I’ve heard there’s concerns about me being a leaseholder and issues dealing with wind energies,” Lockwood said during the March 1 meeting. “I don’t think it’s an issue myself, but given the concerns I will recuse myself from dealing with wind energy issues from the board tonight.”

Consumers Energy’s approach to Elmwood Township is different than that used by NextEra Energy Resources in dealing with Ellington, according to Lockwood.

The Advertiser filed a request Feb. 23 through Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act to obtain any communication between NextEra and Township Supervisor Duane Lockwood in his capacity as an elected official.

Lockwood denied the request saying there have been zero written communications between him in his capacity as a township official and NextEra.

Further, he said the only communication between him and NextEra has been one sentence statements where the company asked to get on agendas for Ellington Township board of trustees and planning commission meetings.

Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at andrew@tcadvertiser.com

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