CARO — Officials from NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C. have confirmed plans to launch its next Tuscola County wind farm in 2017 – despite the threat of legal action and what the company calls other “uncertainties” related to the project.
Concurrently, the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners is drafting a resolution urging townships in the region to be more open to citizen concerns while officials from NextEra Energy Resources say at least one company representative plans to address the county board soon – the first time publicly in at least three years.
“We are hoping to build in 2017 and declare commercial operations by the end of that,” Ryan Pumford, project manager with NextEra Energy Resources, told The Advertiser.
The plan includes filing conditional use applications in the spring or summer and site plans by the end of 2016, he said.
It’s a plan some were not happy to hear.
“We’ve been very scared since last November,” said Ellington Township resident Mike Pattullo, who is part of a group citizens in Ellington and Almer townships who are concerned about noise and how far turbines have to be setback from other properties.
Pattullo added that Ellington Township Supervisor Duane Lockwood has told citizens more than once that everything has been decided and the wind farm is coming.
“They (NextEra) don’t seem to be too concerned about it … I can see why they would want it to be done, but we don’t think it’s done at all.”
As The Advertiser first reported Jan. 27, NextEra Energy Resources plans to build the project it calls “Tuscola III” in Almer,
Ellington, and Fairgrove townships. The company has said the project is valued at more than $200 million.
On March 15, the company filed what it calls array plans with the FAA for 60 turbines in the area.
The company declined to provide a detailed map of the site plan, but officials said the FAA filings are accurate with regard to where turbines could be located.
The purpose of filing with the FAA, Pumford said, is to essentially get approval from the FAA as to where turbines could be located based on whether or not they are determined to be hazardous to aircraft.
He said it’s important to note that the FAA could rule out some locations based on relation to the Caro airport.
That’s one reason the company usually waits until approvals are in place before confirming where sites will be, Pumford said.
“The information we get back from the FAA is what we use to refine our site plan and it may include moving some turbines around and it may include removing some,” Pumford said. “It’s something we do in the normal course of development business to guide our siting so that when we do come to the planning commission with our conditional use application we have a site plan that’s as close to real as it can be.”
Pumford said the company plans to file those conditional use applications sometime in the spring or summer. He acknowledged that is a large range, but said it was appropriate given the amount of “uncertainties.”
Among the uncertainties are what will happen in Almer Township, which is considering making possible changes to its wind ordinance.
Another potential delay could be caused by citizens in Ellington Township who are concerned about what they call a “conflict of interest” between NextEra Energy Resources and Duane Lockwood, supervisor, Ellington Township. Patullo said the group is considering seeking a court injunction against the project as a result.
The group estimates Lockwood could have as many as five turbines on his property – and contends he was too involved in determining Ellington Township’s wind ordinance.
Pumford said NextEra Energy Resources meets with supervisors before publicly proposing projects (see “NextEra Q&A, page A9). However, Lockwood denied a request from The Advertiser through the Michigan Freedom of Information Act seeking any email or other form of communication between he and NextEra. In his written denial, Lockwood said no such communication exists.
“If the township grants permits, we’re going to file for injunction,” Patullo said. “We think we have a very strong case…we won’t hesitate to do it if we have to.”
Patullo presented his case to the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners on March 24.
It was noted several times during the meeting that NextEra Energy Resources has not addressed the board in at least three years, even though what happens in the county’s respective townships is considered “local.”
After hearing the board’s concerns from The Advertiser, Pumford said planned to get on the board’s agenda in the near-term.
Thomas Bardwell, chairman, Tuscola County Board of Commissioners, said the board doesn’t have much power when it comes to such issues, but the board did decide to move forward with preparing a resolution that would urge all townships to, among other things, take citizen concerns into account.
He later said he was encouraged to hear the board may get a chance to talk to NextEra officials directly, though nothing had been confirmed as of press time.
“I know from the perspective of the board, certainly, there is a general interest in meeting with them,” Bardwell said.
Beth Waldon contributed to this story.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org