By Natasha Blakely
Attempts by Heritage Sustainable Energy to build a second wind farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula have stalled because the company skipped essential paperwork.
That’s why the state Court of Appeals refused to clear the way for the Traverse City-based company to build a controversial 42-turbine wind farm in Schoolcraft County’s Inwood Township. Heritage intended to start with 18 turbines and work up to 42.
A former county ordinance didn’t allow wind turbines to be built without a permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, according to Schoolcraft County Commissioner Pat Carley.
Heritage applied for and received permission from the board to build a test tower, which was constructed.
In March 2014, the county amended the ordinance to allow wind turbines without a permit if they met certain restrictions, including being at least 3,960 feet from residential property and businesses.
However, county Zoning Administrator Jake Rivard said that the restrictions were just guidelines, with site specifics left to the discretion of the board.
At the end of 2014, Heritage sued the county because the amended ordinance would not allow it to build wind turbines on property the company leased from farmers.
A judge dismissed the case because Heritage hadn’t applied to the board for a permit for the project before or after the ordinance was changed.
“Heritage claimed it would’ve been futile to file because they wouldn’t have got it anyway,” Carley said.
The Court of Appeals rejected Heritage’s appeal for the same reason – the company hadn’t bothered to apply for a permit.
Heritage and its lawyer declined to comment on the ruling or whether there would be a further appeal.
It is the company’s third such lawsuit. The other two involved its wind turbines in McBain in Missaukee County and Garden Township in the U.P.
Under a 2008 law, utilities in Michigan must get at least 10 percent of their electric supply from renewable energy sources. Wind energy has been catching on, with 15 of the state’s 27 wind farms in Huron County.
However, many Michigan residents have not been happy with the increase of wind farms in the state.
“These are large machines,” said John Sarver, a member of the board of directors of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association. “Because of economies of scale, either a utility or private developer might develop a wind farm with 50 wind turbines, 100 wind turbines. They have a lot of benefits of course to a local community, but they also really change the landscape.”
There are concerns related to sound emitted by the turbines and to their impact on wildlife, Sarver said.
For example, Pennsylvania has had significant negative impacts on bird and bat deaths because of its turbines, he said. But that is unlike what research has shown in Michigan.
“What happens in Michigan, the studies have indicated that each wind turbine will kill two to three bats and two to three birds a year, and if you think in terms of the general population of birds, that’s not as significant as all the birds that are killed by windows, cars, cats,” Sarver said.
Part of Heritage’s problems came from Schoolcraft County residents not wanting a wind farm there.
“The people don’t like them,” Carly said. “They are basically problematic. They destroy the view. They watched what went on in Garden, friends fighting with friends.
A poll found that about 80 percent of Schoolcraft County residents didn’t want them, he said.