Exelon v Bridgehamption – High Winds in Sanilac


16_cThere are high winds blowing in Michigan’s Sanilac County. It’s neighbor against neighbor. A Fortune 150 company wanting to do millions in renewable energy construction in a township of less then 1000 residents and a local township government that has never faced such a monumental and community altering series of challenges…ever!

The events of the past several months have culminated in a frustrated energy giant, Exelon, filing a lawsuit against one of the smallest government entities in Michigan. It’s a story that case study’s are made of in the Harvard Business Review and its playing out live now in Michigan’s Thumb. Emotions are high on both sides with it all expected to be resolved  one way or the other in the coming days.

We managed to get in the middle of it and Thumbwind posed a series of questions to Exelon’s Kristin Otterness, Communications Manager with Exelon’s Generation division.  Kristin agreed to give us deeper insight on the suit Exelon filed in Sanilac County circuit court last week against Bridgehamption Township.  Bridgehamption has delayed planning  hearings in the Michigan Wind 3 Project that was expected to start this year.


ThumbWindIconThumbwind: In The Port Huron Times Herald article from last Friday 5/13,  Exelon indicated that the “special land use permit for its planned development, Michigan Wind 3 is in compliance with the Township ordinance, which protects both participants and non-participants.” So no ordinances or rules have changed since this special use permit was applied for in 2015?

Otterness: Bridgehampton Township undertook substantial efforts to update and improve its regulations for permitting wind energy facilities in 2015 in anticipation of wind development in the township. That process to formally amend the zoning ordinance involved multiple public meetings with the Planning Commission, the Township Board, the Township’s attorney, the Spicer Group as a consultant to the Township, and the public. The Board adopted the revised ordinance in August 2015.

Exelon has followed the Township’s process to obtain permits for the Michigan Wind 3 project, and our application is in compliance with the Township’s ordinance, which was amended in 2015. The amendments increased required setback distances from residences and non-participating property lines from what was previously required. The current ordinance protects the health and safety of participants and non-participants alike.


ThumbWindIconThumbwind: It’s our understanding from the complaint Exelon issued to the court that you’re asking for is the Bridgehampton Township Planning Commission hold a June 14 public hearing on the company’s special land use permit?

Otterness: The Bridgehampton Township Planning Commission’s decision May 3 to delay indefinitely the June 14 public hearing on the Michigan Wind 3 special land use permit application unnecessarily delays the project and denies Bridgehampton Township residents, landowners and taxpayers the opportunity for this proposal to be processed and heard.

ThumbWindIconThumbwind: Was Exelon given a reason why the public hearing was cancelled and setting a new date was tabled?

Otterness: We are simply asking the Court to issue an order instructing the Bridgehampton Township Planning Commission to act on the Michigan Wind 3 special land use permit application in a timely manner, which it is legally required to do.


ThumbWindIconThumbwind: One of the complaints from those opposing this project is that not all the land owners and residents were contacted for the hearing. What happened?

Otterness: The law requires that the Planning Commission hold a public hearing on applications for special land use permit. This is the second time a public hearing on the special land use application has been postponed. The hearing set to occur on January 5, 2016 was cancelled after a township resident threatened a lawsuit concerning proper noticing of the hearing. The township subsequently amended the noticing procedures in its ordinance to bring them into compliance with state requirements. The cancellation of the June 14, 2016 hearing date also unnecessarily delays the project and denies Bridgehampton Township residents, landowners and taxpayers the opportunity for this proposal to be processed and heard.


ThumbWindIconThumbwind: Has Exelon reached out to the community or held Q&A sessions for those impacted by this project?

Otterness: Bridgehampton Township undertook substantial efforts to update and improve its regulations for permitting wind energy facilities in 2015 in anticipation of wind development in the township. That process to formally amend the zoning ordinance involved multiple public meetings with the Planning Commission, the Township Board, the Township’s attorney, the Spicer Group as a consultant to the Township, and the public. The Board adopted the revised ordinance in August 2015.


ThumbWindIconThumbwind: It’s been noted by opponents of the Michigan Wind 3 energy project that a number of trustees from  Bridgehampton Township are current landowners holding leases that Exelon will utilize in this project. Is that your understanding?

Otterness: We are simply asking the Court to issue an order instructing the Bridgehampton Township Planning Commission to act on the Michigan Wind 3 special land use permit application in a timely manner, which it is legally required to do. More than 125 landowners and approximately half of the property in the township are participating in the project. Exelon has followed the township’s process to obtain permits for the Michigan Wind 3 project, and our application is in compliance with the Township’s ordinance. We’ve been communicating with the township leaders and have been present at public Board and Planning Commission meetings and public hearings to address questions.


ThumbWindIconThumbwind: What is the outcome if this hearing and process is delayed further?

Otterness: The Planning Commission’s continued inaction could jeopardize the viability of the Michigan Wind 3 project, which would deny the township, its residents and surrounding communities approximately $50 million in economic benefits, including tax revenues, jobs and community spending that the project would bring.


ThumbWindIconThumbwind: What is Exelon doing with other areas in the US and Michigan with renewable energy projects?

Otterness: Exelon is America’s 14th largest wind energy producer, with 47 projects in 10 states comprising nearly 1,500 megawatts.  Exelon owns and operates six wind projects in Michigan with a total capacity of 403 megawatts.

In true transparency we have not approached nor sought out comment from the trustees of Bridgehamption Township. We are certain that they feel caught in the middle of this and Thumbwind will endevour to reach out to them in the next week 

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