Energy & Environment

Big Wind Gets Spanked in Michigan

(Photo: Maria Wachala/Dreamstime)
Citizens in 20 localities rejected wind-power expansion.

Big Wind’s lobbyists and promoters love to claim that their projects are being welcomed by rural communities everywhere. The reality is rather different. Last Tuesday, voters in 20 rural towns in Michigan went to the polls and rejected or restricted the expansion of wind energy.

Furthermore, those same Michigan voters soundly rejected two projects being promoted by the world’s largest producer of wind energy, NextEra Energy — which, as I discussed on this site last week, has been suing rural governments in multiple states (two of them in Michigan) while at the same time collecting billions of dollars in federal tax subsidies.

Big Wind’s worst drubbing occurred in Sand Beach Township, in Huron County, where voters approved modifications to a township ordinance that will effectively ban wind development. The vote tally: 413–80. In addition, Lincoln Township voters approved an initiative that will allow it to form its own planning commission, a move that will make it far more difficult for wind projects to be developed in the township. Sand Beach and Lincoln were among 18 townships in Huron County that gunned down Big Wind’s expansion plans. (Huron County is about 130 miles due north of Detroit.) Voters in the other 16 townships went to the polls as a group and rejected two projects, including a 60-turbine project proposed by NextEra and a 70-turbine project being pushed by DTE Energy. Both proposals lost by a margin of 63 to 37 percent.

I recently talked to Kevon Martis. He is the founding director of the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition, a group based in Blissfield, Mich., that works with rural governments in the Midwest that are resisting the encroachment of Big Wind. He was exultant. “Huron County has more than 400 turbines,” Martis said. “If wind energy is so great, why didn’t the county voters choose to have more of them?” Martis went on, saying that NextEra and DTE probably spent more than $500,000 on their efforts to get voters to approve their projects while the anti-wind forces “might have spent $3,000 or $4,000.”

Big Wind also lost on ballot questions in Marlette Township in Sanilac County and in Almer Township in Tuscola County. In Marlette, voters approved, by a margin of 53 to 47 percent, a zoning amendment that will toughen an ordinance governing wind-energy projects.

To be sure, these results haven’t been reported by mainstream media. But then, the fact that rural communities from Maine to California are rejecting Big Wind doesn’t fit the popular media’s narrative that wind energy is “green.” The Michigan results expose the fictions being peddled by Big Wind’s multitude of lobbyists. Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, who has refused to answer my e-mailed questions regarding the backlash against the wind industry, recently claimed that wind energy “boosts rural American economies in unmatched ways” and that “83 percent of Americans support more wind.” In March, Kiernan’s AWEA colleague Susan Sloan claimed that “the idea that rural America doesn’t want wind power, that’s just not what we’ve experienced.”

The fact that rural communities from Maine to California are rejecting Big Wind doesn’t fit the popular media’s narrative that wind energy is ‘green.’

Perhaps Kiernan and Sloan should visit Almer Township, where voters rejected a NextEra-backed ordinance that would have weakened the town’s zoning ordinance. As I noted in these pages last week, Almer is one of five rural governments that have been sued by NextEra since last October. Almer residents, who are defending themselves against NextEra’s lawsuit in federal court, voted against the wind giant’s proposal by a margin of 55 to 45 percent.

NextEra can afford its courthouse mugging of small towns like Almer and Hinton, Okla. (population: 3,000), because it is gorging on federal tax subsidies. Between 2008 and 2015, according to a recent report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, NextEra accumulated profits of $21.5 billion but didn’t pay a dime in federal income taxes. Nor does it appear that NextEra will be paying federal taxes anytime soon. In its 2016 10-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company reported $3 billion in tax-credit carryforwards, an increase of $143 million over its 2015 numbers.

Norm Stephens, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Almer and opposed the project, told me of the vote total, “It’s huge. We are sending a message.” But he quickly added, “NextEra is not going away. There’s too much money involved.”

The vote totals in Michigan add to my ongoing tally of the rural backlash against Big Wind. Thus far this year, 37 government entities in ten states have moved to reject or restrict wind-energy development. More rejections and restrictions are coming.

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— Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

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