ICYMI: A story largely overlooked that emerged from the May 2 elections across Michigan was the widespread rejection by voters of new wind farms in the Thumb Area.
The Thumb has become the center of the wind energy business in the Great Lakes region and the electorate took a firm stand to put the brakes on the constant addition of massive turbines in open areas.
Voters from 20 small townships in Huron, Tuscola and Sanilac counties overwhelmingly voted for ballot proposals that strengthen zoning laws and halt multi-million dollar wind turbine projects.
It appears that Thumb residents are feeling turbine fatigue as the local economic benefits have been marginal while the perceived damage to the area’s rustic, rural atmosphere has become a growing viewpoint.
The Huron Tribune reports that the debate over wind energy has divided the community.
“It’s created a lot of division within our community: division on the planning commission, division on the board of commissioners, division with families, division between neighbors,” said Steve Allen, county legal counsel, at a recent Huron County Planning Commission meeting.
On May 2, by a 2 to 1 margin, voters in more than a dozen Huron County townships where the county handles zoning matters rebuffed a “wind park” proposed by DTE in the Filion area. NextEra Energy Resources proposed a wind park in Sherman and Sigel townships, which was also turned down by a wide margin.
Two other Huron County townships and one each in neighboring Sanilac and Tuscola counties approved similar provisions. In one case, a proposal for tougher turbine noise restrictions passed with 84 percent support.
According to Thumbwind.com, Michigan’s upper Thumb has 443 operating turbines, with 29 more expected to be completed in 2017. Huron county has the largest installed wind energy base in the Great Lakes. Long-term plans formulated by utilities and energy companies call for 2,800 wind turbines in the Thumb.
Officials in Huron County acknowledge that the election results stand as a rebuke of the county’s energy-friendly master plan. But they are not ready to adhere fully to the wishes of the rural townships.
Sami Khoury, chair of the Huron County Board of Commissioners, told the Tribune that people who live in cities and villages were upset that they had no voice in the election, which was open to county-zoned townships only.
“Hopefully time heals the wounds, and we can move forward with other projects,” he said.
One resident who spoke out at the planning commission meeting said that county officials must accept that “no matter who rolls into town with a bag of money, that people still want to live in a quiet, peaceful rural area first and foremost.”
Though voter turnout was fairly low for the off-season election, wind energy opponents took notice of the lopsided-results. Robert Bryce, a scholar at the Manhattan Institute, wrote in the National Review that the “rural backlash against Big Wind” now encompasses 37 government entities in 10 states that have rejected or restricted wind energy development.