(File photo)

New appeal does not name AZBA

NextEra Energy Resources filed an appeal Feb. 3 in Tuscola County Circuit Court following last month’s decision by the Tuscola County Airport Zoning Board of Authority to deny variance applications for eight wind turbines associated with the company’s Pegasus Wind Energy project. 

This is the second time the Juno Beach, Florida-based alternative energy corporation appealed a variance denial from the AZBA. In July, the AZBA denied variances for 33 turbines associated with Pegasus. NextEra appealed the decision, and it was overturned in November by Judge Amy Grace Gierhart.

The AZBA subsequently appealed the judge’s decision with the Michigan Court of Appeals. The case is pending.

There is a glaring difference between the two appeals. In the appeal filed last summer, NextEra named both the AZBA and Tuscola County in its filing. With the new appeal, only Tuscola County is named. This is significant because the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners decided in December to not appeal the judge’s decision overturning the AZBA denial. The AZBA voted to appeal Gierhart’s decision, and to accept donations from groups not related to county government to fund it. 

With the recent appeal filing, NextEra is leapfrogging the AZBA and not recognizing it is an entity separate from the county, but rather a body that works for the county.

NextEra officials approached the Juniata and Fairgrove township boards in fall of 2017 about a new wind farm – Pegasus. At the time, NextEra already had constructed three projects in Michigan’s Thumb – Pheasant Run in Huron County and Tuscola-Bay and Tuscola II, both in Tuscola County.

Since then, the Pegasus project has been a point of bitter debate among residents – especially in Juniata Township where the community is effectively split in two, with one side in favor of the project and the other against it. 

The original Pegasus project called for 63 turbines to be constructed in Juniata and Fairgrove townships. Presently, the project includes 60 potential turbines – 31 in Fairgrove Township, 19 in Juniata Township and 10 in Gilford Township. 

The 33 turbines involved in the pending Michigan Court of Appeals lawsuit, as well as the eight that recently received variance denial, are close enough to the Tuscola Area Airport that, because of their size (450-500 feet), violate the airport’s height ordinance. In order to construct them, NextEra needs the AZBA to approve variance applications.

NextEra’s primary point of emphasis, while asking the AZBA for variance approval in both instances, was that the Federal Aviation Administration has issued a determination of “no presumed hazard” for the eight turbines, like it had for all turbines – including the 33 involved in litigation – associated with Pegasus.

In fall 2018, construction commenced with the building of base supports and access roads for nearly all of the wind turbines involved in the project. Though the erection of the turbines has stalled due to litigation, 18 turbines associated with the project already have been constructed. 

John Schneider is editor of The Advertiser. He can be reached at john@tcadvertiser.com.

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