News Story

Huron County Looks at Wind Turbine Moratorium

Michigan’s wind capital may push the pause button

There are 328 wind turbines in Huron County, which is more than in all of Michigan’s other counties combined. But now the county appears poised to say: “Enough is enough.”

With a 6 to 1 vote on Dec. 30, the Board of Commissioners agreed to pay up to $1,000 for Foster Swift, a Grand Rapids law firm, to draft a moratorium on wind energy.

John Nugent, a member of the board, said the board wants to at least push the pause button on new wind energy development so it can reevaluate the situation.

“Huron County is large and primarily rural,” Nugent said, “The people who live here have now had a chance to experience the presence of wind turbines up close. We are not necessarily saying that no more wind turbines should be built or even necessarily where they could be built. We’re saying we need to pause and examine the potential for damage and decide if it is time for a rewrite (of the county’s zoning ordinance). That would be the purpose of the moratorium."

“This is a multi-faceted issue,” Nugent said. “Concerns include ultrasound, flicker, lights and various things that potentially have negative impacts on health. But those aren’t the only issues. Developers are now talking about placing some wind turbines within three miles of the shoreline, so the environment, migratory birds, forests and shorelines are issues as well. People certainly have a right to have their own property developed; we don’t want to intervene or interfere with that; but as the saying goes – ‘A person’s right to swing his fist ends where another person’s nose begins.’”

Huron County has been contacted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has recommended that if the county rewrites its ordinance, it should prohibit new turbines within three miles of the shoreline.

The proposed action in Huron County would be similar to what has occurred in Ohio, where the state has enacted what amounts to a moratorium on wind energy development, so that it can revisit the issue of renewable energy mandates. In addition, Ohio has eliminated the requirement that only energy produced “in-state” can satisfy the mandate. It has also tightened its safety regulations covering energy safety.

Michigan's renewable energy mandate requires that 10 percent of the state's energy be produced by in-state renewable sources by 2015. In practical terms, “renewable sources” means wind turbines.

The rationale for the mandate is to reduce carbon emissions, though the experience of Germany, which has an ambitious target for wind energy production, suggests that it may increase them. The law that established the mandate in Michigan, PA 295 of 2008, did not require that its impact on emissions be measured. The Legislature is scheduled to review the mandate this year.

According to Kevon Martis, director of the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition (IICC), a non-profit organization that is concerned about the construction of wind turbines in the region, state lawmakers and officials in other Michigan communities should pay attention to what’s happening in Huron County.

"There are many reasons Huron County is pursuing this moratorium but one reason is certainly this: Since PA 295's adoption in 2008, Huron County politics – like its once-pristine rural landscape – has been dominated by three things: turbines, turbines, and more turbines,” Martis said. “Huron County commissioners have conceded that their wind energy noise regulations are so poorly constructed that they are essentially unenforceable. A moratorium is a very wise step, as it will protect the residents who are currently subject to this deficient county zoning from any new wind development. That the ‘wind capital’ of Michigan is making a move like this should be a stark warning for Lansing legislators. Turning entire counties into power plants may turn out to be the greatest failed social experiment of our time."

Geronimo Energy, which could be the wind developer most immediately affected by a moratorium, did not respond to a request for comment.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.