BEULAH, Mich.—Duke Energy announced Wednesday it is reshaping the footprint of its proposed wind farm in Benzie and Manistee Counties, saying it will direct its development efforts for the coming year to just two of the four townships where it first proposed the 200 megawatt project.
The company confirmed for the Great Lakes Bulletin News Service that, for 2012, it would pursue wind turbine development for its Gail Windpower Project primarily in Benzie’s Joyfield and Manistee’s Pleasanton Townships.
Duke had originally planned to also develop wind turbines in nearby Benzie’s Blaine and Manistee’s Arcadia Townships, but the company said a larger concentration of signed landholder leases in the other two townships—and the result of a survey of 900 residents in all four townships gauging support for wind power development within them—led the company to refocus its efforts.
|Duke indicated that it is finding strong interest in windpower development in Manistee County’s Pleasanton and Benzie County’s Joyfield Townships.|
The survey, according to Duke, found majority support for wind development in Joyfield, and two-thirds majority support in Pleasanton.
The company commissioned Central Michigan University to do the mail-in and telephone surveys.
“Without question, the biggest factor in this decision is the concentration of lease option agreements we’ve reached in Joyfield and Pleasanton,” said Duke Energy Renewables Vice President Milton Howard. “We also took into account (community) input.”
It is not clear if the announcement means that Duke’s plans to erect wind turbines in Arcadia and Blaine Townships, where several citizen groups have stoutly resisted the proposal, are dead.
When asked this question, Duke spokesman Greg Efthimiou said, “It’s still far too early to say.”
“This simply means that we’re going to focus our 2012 development efforts where interest and support for clean energy and economic growth is strongest—in Joyfield and Pleasanton,” Mr. Efthimiou said.
The company had planned to invest as much as $360 million in the four townships. Duke said that would annually generate about $3.6 million in additional property tax revenue for the townships and counties, and about $1.6 million annually in leaseholder revenue if all 112 originally proposed turbines were constructed.
The change in plans could allow more of that money to flow to Joyfield and Pleasanton Townships.
However the company also indicated in its press release that current leaseholders in the two townships where the company is now freezing its development efforts would still receive a yearly fee for previously signing a lease if the project is constructed and put into operation.
Reports indicate that landowners that do host turbines on their land would receive about $14,000 in annual wind royalties, while others within the project’s footprint who signed with the company but did not have turbines on their property would be paid a modest “adjacency fee.”
The decision by Duke sparked speculation that zoning ordinances, or lack thereof, in the townships may also have played a role in the company’s decision.
Each of the four townships is in a different stage of dealing with the zoning ordinances needed to regulate the project.
In Benzie County, Joyfield Township has no zoning regulations at all, while Blaine Township already has a wind ordinance in place—essentially the same ordinance Benzie County adopted more than a year ago, before budget cuts eliminated its planning and zoning department. Earlier this year Blaine Township’s trustees imposed a moratorium on all wind project applications—including Duke’s project—in order to determine whether that ordinance is adequate.
A Blaine Township official indicated that the moratorium would last at least through December.
In Manistee County, Arcadia Township, the first township to impose a moratorium on the project, recently extended it another six months, while Pleasanton Township’s moratorium ends in October.
The change in Duke’s plans also comes as researchers with Macalester College prepare to release the results of more than 1,500 mail and online surveys that sought answers to what local residents want, and will accept, when it comes to commercial wind power. The mail and online surveys specifically targeted residents in the four townships that straddled Duke’s original Gail Windpower footprint.
Macalester, under the auspices of a community-led process known as the Understanding Wind Initiative, is also seeking answersto some 400-plus questions submitted to the UWI regarding wind power.
Duke said the Gail Wind project would only be built if it can find a purchaser for the approximate 200 megawatts of power that the project would produce. It is continuing to market the project to utilities in the region to see if it can find a buyer.