News Story

Elected Officials Stand to Get Thousands from Wind Deals If Zoning Approved

Isabella County change would mean hundreds of turbines; some board members already have deals

Two current members of a Michigan county board that is considering zoning changes to allow wind farms have apparently entered into leases with a company developing a wind farm. Contracts for placing wind turbines reportedly pay landowners $8,000 to $14,000 annually.

While Isabella County has been asked to make zoning changes that would allow a wind developer to erect 200 or more wind turbines, county commissioners George Green and Frank Engler have entered turbine tower lease agreements with Apex Clean Energy, Inc., according to a website that tracks deeds recorded in the county.

The website shows a lease agreement between George A. Green and Apex Clean Energy, Inc. in Farwell that is dated March 22, 2017. There is also a lease agreement between Frank Engler and Apex Clean Energy, Inc. in Mount Pleasant that is dated Dec. 19, 2016.

The home addresses and names on the leases match those listed on public websites for both Isabella County commissioners.

Green and Engler didn’t respond to an email seeking confirmation of the leases. Isabella County Administrator Margaret McAvoy also didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

The leases were uncovered by Kevon Martis, an activist who opposes industrial wind farms in rural areas.

In an email, Martis said such arrangements are not unusual and called these deals pathetic.

“We know of almost no place in Michigan that a wind project has actually been developed without some conflict of interest among the local policy makers,” Martis said. “The wind industry has an unwritten rule: You have to harvest the officials if you want to harvest the wind. APEX has struck green gold in Isabella County.”

In June, the Isabella County Planning Commission held a hearing on zoning changes meant to allow the additional wind turbines. Any changes to zoning would have to be approved by the full board of commissioners, which includes Engler and Green.

Apex Clean Energy, Inc. didn’t respond to an email. The Virginia company’s website lists a wind project in Isabella County that is due for completion in 2020.

At the end of 2016, the Michigan Legislature enacted a law to increase from 10 percent to 15 percent an existing mandate on utilities to get more energy from renewable sources. In Michigan that means wind turbines, and 2017 has seen a rush by wind farm development companies to erect hundreds of industrial-sized wind turbines in some rural counties. As of this spring, there were 887 wind turbine towers in Michigan.

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.