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One of Michigan's windiest counties approves one-year wind moratorium

The Board of Commissioners in Huron County, located at the tip of Michigan's thumb region, passed a one-year moratorium on large-scale wind development.

Five of seven commissioners on Dec. 29 voted in favor of one-year moratorium, while Commissioner Clark Elftman voted against and Commissioner Ron Wruble was absent, the County confirmed by phone. A five-year moratorium was originally proposed by Commissioner Wruble, but was later revised after a Dec. 14 public hearing by Commissioner John Nugent to a one-year moratorium, according to a Dec. 27 report by The Huron Daily Tribune. The latest zoning ordinance text amendment published as part of the notice of a Dec. 14 public hearing mentions a five-year moratorium, but an official with the county confirmed that the board approved a one-year moratorium.

Wruble's district 6 includes Sand Beach Township and Nugent's district 7 includes Lincoln Township, both of which adopted their own zoning ordinances out of concern that the state's ordinance for wind is not strict enough, according to a draft resolution offered by Commissioner Nugent during a Nov. 8 board meeting.

The language in the amended ordinance as of Dec. 14 suggests that the moratorium prevents the issuance of any permits, licenses and approvals for new wind projects while the board considers revisions to the county's ordinance and addresses concerns among communities.

Some commissioners have discussed the possibility of revising the zoning ordinance to require a special use permit for wind energy systems, the Nov. 8 resolution states. Many residents in the county have voiced concerns through public hearings about the long-term health effects from the shadow flicker caused by wind turbine blades and sounds emanating from wind energy systems, according to the resolution.

Furthermore, there are concerns about whether the county has reached a "saturation point for the aggregate number of wind energy systems countywide with respect to the long-term impact of encouraging diversity within our community, while also preserving the desirability of the overall environment," the resolution states.

Huron County has about 475 wind turbines operating or near the end of construction, and two projects are in the application stage that will add about 100 more turbines, according to the resolution. S&P Global Market Intelligence data show that the county has a total of roughly 1,322 MW of wind. About 570 MW of that amount comes from existing capacity and 751 MW from planned projects, making Huron County the largest county in terms of wind supply. Gratiot and Tuscola Counties follow in terms of total capacity. Gratiot, located in the central part of the state, has a total of 956 MW of wind, of which 344 MW comes from existing capacity and 611 MW is planned, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data. Tuscola County has a total of about 696 MW of wind, of which 451 MW is operating and 245 MW is in development, according to S&P Global data.

The latest ordinance excludes certain development projects from being impacted by the moratorium.

DTE Energy Co. owns and operates six wind parks that will not be impacted by the moratorium, DTE spokeswoman Cindy Hecht said in a Dec. 28 email.

DTE mentioned it was pleased that the Huron County Planning Commission had recommended excluding the company's Filion Wind Park project from its proposed moratorium, Hecht said prior to the board's vote.

"The moratorium does not apply to upcoming projects by DTE Energy in Filion, [Sempra U.S. Gas & Power LLC] in Winsor Township, or [NextEra Energy Resources LLC] in Sherman and Sigel townships," The Huron Daily Tribune reported on Dec. 30. The latest version of the ordinance was not yet posted on the board's website as of midday on Dec. 30.

The moratorium is expected to take effect mid-January. Michigan's Zoning Enabling Act requires a zoning ordinance to take effect within seven days of publication, but state law allows up to 15 days for publication.