Property values, decommissioning and noise associated with wind turbines were among the topics deliberated Wednesday by members of the Almer Township Planning Commission.
But for the second time in a row, the commission ran out of time and did not make a decision on the application for special land use permits submitted by a subsidiary company of Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C.
That means that so far, the public hearing for the application has lasted more than six hours.
Approval of the special land use permit is needed before NextEra Energy Resources can move forward with Tuscola III Wind Energy Center — a $200 million wind turbine project set for Almer, Ellington, and Fairgrove townships.
Planning Commission Chairman Robert Braem made a motion Wednesday night to table a decision citing the need for more information. Commission members voted 4-0 with members Kelly Avery and Darwin Rushlo abstaining. Commission members are expected to resume discussion on the matters on or before Jan. 4.
The board requested additional information for the following:
- The cost of decommissioning a collection of turbines or single windmill, third-party participation and the overall decommission process.
- An economic study specific to Almer Township and more details concerning property values in the wind project.
- Model the area impacted by sound from a wind turbine using a different method than what’s currently in place.
Commissioners also heard from NextEra Energy Resources officials.
They addressed more than 20 issues previously identified by the township’s engineering firm.
Ryan Pumford, project manager with NextEra Energy Resources, said he provided a “comprehensive response letter” addressing the concerns.
“As we presented on our Nov. 10 hearing, our SUP application does comply with the Almer Township ordinance,” said Pumford. “It was accepted on Sept. 26, and after review, Spicer asked for some follow-up information. We provided that information.”
Much of the discussion Wednesday centered on measurement of sound from wind turbines.
“We have to be careful we don’t venture into rewriting the ordinance on the fly here,” said commission member Jim Tussey when the board examined the application by the ordinance. “I’m not exactly sure, maybe the attorneys can talk more on that.
“That’s what I’d be careful of — that we would start to reinterpret the ordinance and I don’t think our charge is to interpret the ordinance (but) is to analyze the special land use permit in compliance with the existing ordinance,” Tussey said.
Braem said he agreed with Tussey’s statement if their current situation was in a perfect world, but pointed out “we have a fairly vague ordinance.”
The lengthy meeting continued to show signs of a polarized audience during the time that allows the public to comment.
Jim Block, who owns land in Almer Township, spoke directly to NextEra Energy Resources representatives, and claimed the company is using scare tactics against the planning commission.
“The fact is some people are against it, the fact is the people voted … and now they’re confronted with a corporation hiring basically attack law firms to attack people personally and then to go to the next step despite all the rules of a sovereign community and personal lawsuits against the people,” said Block. “I think the vast majority of the people of this township are going to support the board and this planning commission, no matter what their decision is, because we would like them to do their job, and we intend for them to do their job without fear or intimidation.”
As The Advertiser reported Dec. 8, an attorney representing NextEra Energy Resources sent an email to the Almer Township attorney on Nov. 23 requesting preservation of certain emails, texts and other “relevant” information related to wind energy. Specifically, communications that were between private citizens before they took office as elected officials on Nov. 20.
An attorney not associated with the situation told The Advertiser it is a step that is usually taken prior to some sort of legal action.
Gary Parsell — who also serves on the Tuscola County Road Commission — addressed the Almer Township planning commission after Block.
“I guess one thing I learned in this whole mess, I certainly found out what some people think of farmers,” said Parsell. “All the windmills are going up on farmland. Farmers own the land — they decided that’s what they wanted to do and we’ve got a group of people now that doesn’t think we should have them.
“I wish I could take a magic wand and remove all the food growing in Tuscola County off the shelves and these people wouldn’t have anything to eat. It’s just too bad.”
Debanina Seaton is a reporter with The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org