Turbine decision on paper

(The following was first published in The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Tuesday, December 5, 2017.)

Citizens: Thanks for listening to us
Turbine decision on paper

BY WESLEY DEHNE
Staff Writer, The Sentinel

Fulton County Commissioners signed a resolution Monday that prohibits commercial wind energy conversion systems, or WECS, in the unincorporated areas of the county.

The resolution asserts that commercial wind farms are not in the best interest of the health, safety and general welfare of the public. It sends a clear message to the Fulton County Area Plan Commission regarding proposed amendments to the county’s zoning ordinance.

The proposed amendments, proposing new regulations for both commercial and noncommercial WECS in the county, were certified by the plan commission on Sept. 25.

“The statute requires that the commissioners take action within 90 days after the plan commission certified their proposed amendments. This is the official action within that 90-day period,” Fulton County Attorney Greg Heller said. “It’s very clear that the intent is there not be commercial wind energy conversion systems in the unincorporated areas of Fulton County.”

He clarified that commissioners are not prohibiting citizens from putting up noncommercial windmills or wind turbines.

Renewable Energy Systems, or RES, has been contacting landowners to sign lease agreements for a wind farm that would encompass south Fulton County, northwest Miami County and northeast Cass County. The proposed project would bring 133 wind turbines to Fulton County at a near $600 million investment by RES.

“Is this to say that this is as far as it goes?” Audience member Chuck Shane asked commissioners. “I mean, this is solid, they’re not coming? Is that what you’re saying?”

Heller responded, saying the plan commission has the ability to agree or disagree with commissioners within 45 days. That board meets 7 p.m. Monday in the Community Building at the Fulton County 4-H Fairgrounds to decide what action to take.

“At that time, they can choose to say ‘Well, we don’t agree with commissioners and we want to stand by the amendments as we proposed them to the commissioners,’” he said. “At that point, then the Fulton County Commissioners would have 45 days to reaffirm their vote. Keep in mind … they are the only ones that can pass or amend ordinances. The plan commission can only propose these changes to the ordinance.”

Rebecca Van Horn, who lives near Leiters Ford about 25 miles from RES’ proposed project area, rephrased Shane’s question. “Do you know if they are done with Fulton County? RES,” she asked.

“They have to be,” Ranstead responded, followed by Heller stepping in to say, “You don’t know that.”

“I think the safer answer would be we don’t know,” Heller continued, adding there has been little conversation between RES and commissioners.

Lewis said he was unaware of RES’ intentions.

Shane followed up with a second question, asking if a wind energy developer could sue the county for being pushed out.

“I will answer that question as I answer any client that asks me a question about filing lawsuits. Anybody can file lawsuits,” Heller said. “I feel very confident that that type of lawsuit is not going to be successful. But can I sit here and say that they’re not going to file a lawsuit? No. I can’t say that.”

Van Horn commended commissioners Lewis and Ranstead on their decision to block commercial wind turbines from coming into the county. Commissioner Steve Metzger did not take part in Monday’s discussion, as he has recused himself from any county business related to wind energy development.

“You guys really did do your job. I was very pleased, and I know that everybody that I’ve talked to are very pleased with what you guys have done,” Van Horn said. “I can tell from talking to both of you that you did go out and talk to people and you did do some research.”

She went on to say there is an effort underway to assist the residents of Miami and Cass counties in their fight against the project.

Commissioners also heard the gratitude of Lisa Zimpleman, who also attended commissioners’ meeting Monday.

“I just want to say, too, that this kind of ruling sends a stronger message to wind developers than pushing the setbacks to a setback that would deter wind development in our county, so I truly appreciate this and I really do think you guys made this decision in our best interest,” she said.

Miami commissioner opposes wind ordinance


(Published originally in the Logansport, IN Pharos Tribune on Monday, December 4, 2017.)

Miami commissioner opposes wind ordinance
Alan Hunt supported it when passed in 2011

Carson Gerber CNHI News Indiana

PERU — Miami County Commissioner Alan Hunt Monday said he did support the county’s current wind farm ordinance, which sets the guidelines for a proposed wind project that could bring about 75 turbines to the northern part of the county.

Hunt made his view known during a regular meeting of the Miami County Board of Commissioners, in which a group of residents spoke out against the proposal saying the project would mar the rural landscape and impede landowners near the turbines from building on their property.

The project is being proposed by RES, an international renewable energy company with its U.S. headquarters based in Colorado. The parameters for the wind farm would roughly run from 900 North to the Fulton County line, which encompasses about 36,000 acres.

The company is also considering building turbines in Cass and Fulton counties as part of the project.

Miami County’s current wind farm ordinance was approved by the county plan commission in 2011. Hunt at the time served on that commission and voted in favor of the ordinance.

But on Monday, Hunt expressed opposition to the ordinance he helped pass six years ago.

“Today, I do not agree with it,” he said. “That’s my position.”

In an interview after the meeting, Hunt said he supported the ordinance when he served on the plan commission based on the information he was given at the time.

He said he changed his mind after learning RES was proposing to build 600-foot turbines, which is larger than any other wind farm proposal received by the county.

Hunt said his biggest issue with the ordinance is the 1,000-foot setback of turbines from residential dwellings. Under that rule, landowners could not build a home within 1,000 feet of a turbine, even if the tower wasn’t on their property.

Becky Mahoney, who lives near Macy and owns land in the project area, told commissioners that was one of her main concerns, too.

“No one should be forced to surrender their property to an industrial wind developer,” she said. “This, gentleman, is a land grab.”

Hunt said he believes the setback rule should require turbines to be constructed about a quarter-mile from property lines — not residential dwellings — to avoid what he called a building “dead zone.”

But some residents called for the entire ordinance to be scrapped and rewritten.

Greg Deeds, a former county commissioner who works as a land surveyor, said he supported wind farms when he served on the board, but believes the ordinance is now outdated.

“I was all on board. I really was,” Deeds told commissioners. “I thought, ‘Hey, this is going to be a lot of tax revenue for the county and get farmers some money.’ I thought it would be a pretty good thing.”

“But it’s been seven years, and a lot of knowledge has been gained in the time this ordinance was written,” he said. “I couldn’t find any ordinance in the state that’s looser than ours is. I ask that this be reviewed, thought about and reconsidered.”

County Attorney Pat Roberts Monday said any changes to the ordinance would first have to be approved by the plan commission and then receive final approval from commissioners. He told those opposing the wind project to draft a proposal and bring it to the plan commission.

“Present what you think is correct and sell your ideas to them,” Roberts said. “Then the commissioners will review what they pass … and go about it in a legal and lawful manner.”

The next plan commission meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 13. Wind farm opponents already have requested to speak at the meeting about changing the ordinance.

Commissioner Larry West told the crowd Monday he would not say whether he would vote for changes to the ordinance until he saw what those changes might be.

“I don’t know if there will be anything for us to even vote on, number one,” he said. “Number two, I don’t know what it might be. I’d have to see what they put in the ordinance.”

Commissioner Josh Francis has recused himself from any vote on the project, since he has contracted and is being paid by RES to develop lease agreements between property owners and the company.

Hunt said he plans to attend next week’s plan commission meeting. He said he would support the wind ordinance if the commission were to change the setback requirements and address other concerns raised by residents.

Hunt said his decision also would be influenced by the findings of a financial study approved by commissioners investigating the fiscal impact of the project.

Brad Lila, director of development for RES, said in a previous interview the company was aware of residents’ concerns over setbacks and would work with the county to address those concerns.

He said last month more than 50 square miles of land in northern Miami County have so far been secured through lease agreements with landowners to build turbines.

City: No turbines near us

Tipton County Indiana (east of Kokomo, IN).

(The following was originally published in The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Friday, December 1, 2017.)

BY WESLEY DEHNE
Staff Writer, The Sentinel

Rochester City Council ruled Tuesday that any commercial wind turbines placed in Fulton County must be located three miles from city limits.

The ruling followed a presentation by Fulton County Area Plan Director Casi Cowles, who spoke about proposed amendments to a section of the county’s zoning ordinance that governs wind energy conversion systems, or WECS.

Municipal setbacks

“The reason why you have the ability, or you have the requirement, that you need to approve amendments to this code is because there is also a setback in this code that is from municipal boundaries,” Cowles told the council. “Your incorporated limits also has a setback and because of that this code is actually effective in every single area within the county. All the legislative bodies have to look at this code and approve the original one and then approve any amendment to it.”

The amendments were certified by the Fulton County Plan Commission in late September and have since received considerable criticism by those opposed to a three-county wind farm proposal by UK-based developer Renewable Energy Systems, or RES.

Commissioners

Last week, county commissioners Bryan Lewis and Rick Ranstead threw a wrench into the company’s plans by voting to remove commercial wind farms from the county’s zoning ordinance.

Cowles informed city council members that commissioners’ vote, along with written comments as to why they chose to make that decision, now goes before the plan commission for consideration. The plan commission, by state law, has the ability to agree or disagree with commissioners’ determination.

“If they agree then it’s effective in the unincorporated area. If they disagree then they send back their changes and their reasoning of why they disagree, and commissioners would have another vote,” Cowles said. “Once they have that other vote then whatever they decide is effective.”

The plan commission meets 7 p.m. Dec. 11 in the Community Building at the Fulton County 4-H Fairgrounds to make a determination on the ordinance and its proposed amendments.

Proposed changes

The proposed amendments cover a litany of regulations for both commercial and noncommercial WECS from the height of towers, setbacks, shadow flicker and noise to blade clearance, substation requirements, post-construction requirements and interference with telecommunication systems. Other amendments address topics regarding drainage, liability insurance, warning mechanisms, signage, climb prevention and the decommissioning of wind turbines.

The original ordinance, which was approved in January 2008, calls for a setback of 1,500 eet for commercial wind turbines from the incorporated limits of a municipality, platted community or residential district. That’s significantly shorter than the 3-mile setback the city council requested Tuesday. The ordinance does include a waiver option if the city council deems it necessary.

The council, upon the suggestion of Cowles, also chose to redefine noncommercial WECS. The newly proposed definition: “All necessary devices that together convert wind energy into electricity, independently consume the electricity for on-site distribution to a farm, school, business, factory, or the like, and do not receive monetary compensation for the energy except under the parameters of on-site distribution. This includes but is not limited to the blades, rotor, nacelle, generator, WECS tower, electrical components, WECS foundation, transformer, electrical cabling from the WECS Tower to the substation(s), switching stations, meteorological towers, communication facilities, and other required facilities and equipment, as related to a WECS Project.”

The new definition specifies any potential monetary compensation from a noncommercial wind turbine can fall under the parameters of on-site distribution.

Other towns

According to Cowles, the Fulton Town Council has also approved this new definition. Unlike Rochester City Council, she said, the Fulton Town Council approved all the certified amendments including the setback of 1,500 feet from the town’s incorporated boundary.

The setbacks from the incorporated limits of Kewanna and Akron are still to be decided on by their respective town councils. The Kewanna Town Council meets 6 p.m. Thursday at Kewanna Town Hall, and Akron Town Council meets 6 p.m. Dec. 18 at Akron Town Hall.

Letter: “Wind backer: Look forward”

Tipton County Indiana (east of Kokomo, IN).

(The following was originally published in The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Tuesday, November 28, 2017.)

Voice of the People

Wind backer: Look forward

Mr. Mulligan’s previous letter to the editor concerning the financial sustainability of wind energy is a fair one to consider. However to cite wind power’s current state in regard to its subsidies without including the rate at which fossil fuels have been subsidized for decades is unfair and excludes the reasons and history behind why such subsidies exist in the first place. The subsidies now being put into renewables rather than fossil fuels are in effort to alleviate the cost of changing our electrical system over to a more environmentally sustainable one. This is a righteous use of subsidies as we now know these dirtier forms of energy are leading to carbon dioxide levels that if continued will make the environment inhospitable to our current lifestyles. Subsidies can not only accomplish a quicker and necessary change in the energy market they also make food cheaper and healthcare more affordable. For all of these reasons we should be grateful and not so quick to condemn. The merits and wisdom of systems built on subsidies is surely worthy of discussion but as we live now they should be utilized to bring about necessary change and aid in helping in ways only a large government can do with such buying power.

If we choose not to move forward with the rest of the developed world we will lose out on the market and the jobs that come with it. We will lose our place as pioneers in the realm of innovation and technologies. More so we will be placing the uncomfortable reality of a more severe climate change upon our children. Fossil fuel prices will increase as the world moves away from them with or without us. This leaves us with expensive foreign oil bought at higher prices with a higher cost to the environment and indigenous communities, proxy wars in unstable regions in efforts to lay claim on their natural resources, and furthering moves to open up our public lands for such destructive extractions of oil, gas, and coal.

As such, I as a Fulton County native, would be proud to see a wind farm go up in our community. Knowing that we chose to move towards a better (not perfect) means of producing electricity without as many costs. It is sign that we are willing to do not only what is more environmentally responsible but that we are willing to change our own landscape in efforts to lessen the burden other communities would have to shoulder with extractions of fossil fuels. Mountain top removal and fracking come with much heavier costs than a change in scenery the windmills will bring as coal country and neighbors to fracking sites can attest. May we be such a community to welcome this little step we can contribute to such pressing issues in efforts to do our part and lessen our burden on the greater world at large.

Claire Cumberland

Letters: “Wind: Listen to the residents” and “Wind proposal a lousy deal”

Tipton County Indiana (east of Kokomo, IN).

(The following was originally published in The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Friday, November 17, 2017.)

Voice of the People

*Wind: Listen to the residents

 

Last week I went to the Fulton County Commissioners meeting at Fulton.

 

It was standing room only. The meeting was very civil and well ordered. What I found interesting was that a large share of those in attendance were my friends and neighbors and most, not all, are against the wind turbines.

 

Of those in favor, most were from the construction side. They wanted jobs. I understand that, but this is a project that will affect lives for at least the next 30 years. The lives it will affect the most are the residents who live within the wind field. I got there at 5 p.m. when the doors were to open and the parking lot was almost full. When going in we were greeted and asked if we wanted to speak on the issue and if we were for, undecided or opposed. I signed the opposed for an opportunity to speak. I was about the 10th or 12th on the list. At that time, no one had their names of either the for or undecided to speak.

 

I did not get the opportunity to speak.

 

The first five speakers for the evening shared current rules, taxes, legal aspects and the developer, RES, which all slanted their speeches in favor of the turbines, especially RES. The only opinion that slipped out was when speaking on the decommissioning of the turbines, Richard Hall let it slip about getting rid of the “eyesores.”

 

This brought a large applause. The only scheduled speaker in opposition was Aaron Ault for the Fulton County Property Rights Group. He brought out points that RES and others in favor didn’t want shared. He shared so much about health issues, environmental issues, drainage and irrigation issues, and many others.

 

To hear his talk, visit the Fulton County IN Property Rights Facebook page. I encourage everyone to listen and watch his presentation.

 

I spoke with RES before the meeting. I shared that I live in the area of the county that has had to put up with NIPSCO for almost 60 years. I have had to farm around them and allow them full rights to our ground. They own us. I ask RES about that and their response was, “Oh, we aren’t NIPSCO”.

 

We would never do that.

 

I asked him about what it says in their contract. He denied it.

 

So here it is on page 10, 3.2.4: “Notwithstanding the grant of the easement contained in Section 3.4 below, Landowner understands and has been informed by the Company that by this Agreement, Company has the right to cause on, over, across and under the Property or as an indirect or direct result of Company’s or any successor or assign’s activities on the Property in Connection with the Windpower Facilities or the Effects.

 

Except as otherwise agreed to herein, Landowner, for itself, its heirs, administrators, executors, successors and assigns, does hereby waive, remise and release any right, claim or cause of action which it may now have or which it may have in the future against the Company or successor or assign as a direct or indirect result of said Effects.”

 

They will own us!

 

Then to top it off, after construction is done, RES plans to sell the wind field and we will then have to deal with another company who also has no interest in us, except for the tax credits that they will be receiving to line their pockets.

 

Having wind turbines in our community will affect lives. It will change farming practices. It will affect health for some people. It will affect property values. What for? Money. All of those speaking in favor of the project were speaking about money.

 

I am sorry people, but there is more to life than money.

 

Yes, we need money to live, but to what extent?

 

Do we let it affect our quality of life? Will we let it pit neighbor against neighbor for many years to come? Will we allow it control our livelihood?

 

Will we sell out to a company whose only interest in us is the tax credits they will receive?

 

If wind turbines are so awesome, why don’t they replace the aged ones and rebuild in those areas? Because the tax credits are for new construction, not for replacing the “eye sores” of the past and they are in high wind areas.

 

So my appeal is to the commissioners and the plan commission, please make the setbacks safer at 2640 feet or four times the height, whichever is greater, as compared to the 900 feet and to those who haven’t signed with RES, please DON’T SIGN THE LEASE AGREEMENT.

 

Help us to preserve Fulton County as an agriculture county, not an industrial wind farm.

 

The next Commissioners meeting on this issue is Nov. 20, 2017 with the location yet to be determined.

 

Thanks for hearing, David Sommers,

4th generation, lifelong Wayne Township resident.

 

Editor’s note: The location of the meeting is at the Fulton County Fairgrounds Community Building.

 

 

 

*Wind proposal a lousy deal

 

Dear fellow residents of Fulton County, On Monday, November 20th at 6 p.m. at the Fulton County Fairgrounds, our county Commissioners will host a public hearing and possibly vote on “wind setbacks” proposed to them by the Fulton County Planning Board.

 

The commissioners have been tirelessly researching and listening to advice and comments from wind developers, concerned citizens and other counties with Industrial Wind Turbine projects. This decision is one that could change the landscape and the culture of our county FOREVER.

 

While I have only lived in Fulton County for 15 years, my husband’s family has been here for over a century. His parents had four children that have been around the world and back, choosing to build homes on their family’s land and raise their children here as well. This rural farming community is rich in family and farming traditions that have created a peaceful, community minded and strongly intertwined culture. I grew up outside of Chicago, but now reside in a town of roughly 350 individuals. I know more names and families in Fulton County than I ever did in my large hometown.

 

I say this because the setbacks proposed for approval on Nov. 20th could potentially destroy the culture and lifestyle that so many have enjoyed here for decades.

 

What have been proposed by our planning board are some of the shortest setbacks in all of Indiana, for some of the tallest turbines in the world. These 600 foot, giant spinning skyscrapers could be placed only 1,200 feet from your home, and 900 feet from your property line.

 

My husband and I share the dream that one day our children will return home to Fulton County and build homes on our land to continue our family’s century long tradition. These setbacks would rob us of that dream. We would not be able to give land to our children, as building a home closer to the turbines would be unsafe.

 

There are countless other families in this same situation.

 

Our commissioners have to consider the rights of every citizen in this county, not just those of individuals that have signed contracts with RES, the wind developer that is proposing to build 133 turbines in Fulton County alone.

 

If others feel comfortable enough to live closely to a turbine, that is their right. But those citizens, the wind developers, and our elected officials CANNOT ethically force the rest of us to do so.

 

Consider these facts: RES often uses a model of turbine manufactured by VESTAS, a Dutch company. VESTAS’ safety manual states that the turbine workers should not linger within 1,640 feet of the turbine should something go wrong. There are over 2,000 incidents on record of accidents, many involving injuries or even fatalities.

Yet our planning board has proposed to allow RES to place our HOMES and FAMILIES within only 1,200 feet of a turbine?

 

What if one of these turbines were to catch fire?

 

Our fire departments are not equipped to fight fires hundreds of feet in the air. The Netherlands, VESTAS home, recommends setbacks equivalent to 4 times the height of a turbine and strict sound limits.

 

Denmark, one of the strongest wind power nations in the world, has been using Industrial Wind Turbines as a source of clean energy since the 70s. Obviously, this has allowed them many more years to track health and safety issues involving turbines.

 

After years of practice, their government recommends setbacks of AT LEAST 4 times the height of the turbine for the entire nation. In addition, anyone living within six times the height of a proposed turbine may have their home’s value assessed for loss of value due to the turbine’s proximity, and wind developers are responsible for repaying homeowners anything more than a 1% loss of value. Germany, another experienced wind power nation, has setbacks of 3,280 feet and is currently moving away from wind energy, because their citizens cannot afford to pay their electric bills. (Wind energy is apparently not so affordable). Germans also require sound levels to be at or below 30 decibels in a bedroom near a turbine, yet RES is proposing that 55 decibels is acceptable. France requires a 25 decibel limit within homes.

 

If our officials are looking at ALL of the research, and not just the research presented to them by wind developers, it will be clear to them that these proposed setbacks are a danger to our community.

 

Sure, the citizens of Rochester will not be affected, other than the average $25 property tax cut they may see.

 

But I think it’s safe to say that the good people of Rochester are not willing to accept $25 in exchange for putting their rural neighbors’ lives and homes at risk.

 

The only argument posed in favor of this project is the financial aspect. While this project may offer a sizable paycheck to our county (with restrictions as to how the money can be used), there are other ways to bring money that will not change the entire landscape and culture of our community. It is an elected official’s responsibility to seek out new industry and opportunities that will benefit our county.

 

The right opportunity is out there, and it is one that will not put our citizens’ safety, health and personal welfare at risk.

 

We, the citizens of Fulton County are placing our trust and hope in our elected officials.

 

They swore an oath to protect the safety, health and welfare of ALL citizens of Fulton County. I pray that they hear our message loud and clear, or we will send another message in the next election.

 

Fellow citizens, be sure to attend the Public Hearing at the Fulton County Fairgrounds on Monday, November 20th at 6pm to make your voices heard.

 

Sincerely, A VERY concerned citizen of Fulton County

 

Harvest Wind: An outline of facts and figures

Tipton County Indiana (east of Kokomo, IN).

(The following was originally published in The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Friday, November 17, 2017.)

The Sentinel report

 

Over various meetings and interviews a lot of information about RES’ proposed commercial wind farm in Fulton, Cass and Miami counties has been made available in the past couple months.

 

Here’s a sampling:

 

• Renewable Energy Systems, or RES, is interested in developing Harvest Wind Energy LLC wind farm, which could bring 133 wind turbines to Fulton County – 70 in Wayne Township, 50 in Liberty Township, 11 in Union Township and two in Rochester Township. As part of the project, other turbines would be located in Cass and Miami counties. No specific turbine sites have been released.

 

• RES’ estimated investment in Fulton County would be $591,055,643. Brad Lila, director of development for RES, said Fulton County landowners could get paid upwards of $90 million for the life of the project. The project, he said, would create 60-80 permanent

jobs and 300-400 construction jobs.

 

• Lila told The Sentinel landowners get a set amount for turbines, as well as a royalty percentage for the energy generated. Landowners in the project footprint that don’t receive a turbine may still be compensated, so long as they sign up. He would not tell the amounts.

 

• RES purchased earlier contracts between landowners in the wind farm area and Community Energy Wind LLC.

 

• Before it began the process of signing up landowners, RES formed a steering committee of landowners in the area. The company negotiated lease agreement terms with that steering committee, most of whom are farmers, Lila said.

 

• Should RES successfully go through all the county planning and zoning hoops and decide to go forward, wind turbine construction could start spring of 2019 and power could be generated by December 2019. Construction of access roads and turbine foundations could begin in late 2018, Lila said.

 

• An ordinance governing wind energy conversion systems in Fulton County remains under consideration by commissioners, who may choose to approve, reject or modify proposed amendments. A public hearing on those amendments follows commissioners’ meeting Monday at 6 p.m. in the Community Building at the Fulton County 4-H Fairgrounds. The ordinance, including its proposed amendments, is available on the county’s website at http://www.co.fulton.in.us.

 

• Although RES has not yet chosen the type of wind turbine to use, the company has confirmed they would be approximately 600-feet tall.

 

• A setback of 1.5 times the total height of a wind turbine from a property line and 2 times the height from a residential dwelling are among the amendments being considered by commissioners. That would require a wind turbine of 600 feet to be located 900 feet from a property line and 1,200 feet from a residence.

 

• Jason Semler of H.J. Umbaugh & Associates estimated that RES’ investment of nearly $600 million would increase the assessed valuation in the wind farm area by $177 million. That’s $91.8 million in Wayne Township. $70.5 million in Liberty, $13.2 million in Union, $2.3 million in Rochester.

 

• Property taxes in Liberty and Wayne townships would drop $91.21 on a $95,400home – the median in the county. Property taxes in Union Township would drop $91.63 on a $95,400 home and they would fall$22.35 in Rochester Township. A business in Liberty, Wayne or Union townships would receive a property tax reduction of nearly

$400 for every $100,000 of assessed value. There would also be a $7.26 reduction per acre of farmland in those townships. In Rochester the difference would be $1.78 an acre and $96.20 for a $100,000 business.

 

• The property tax impact, Semler said, would mostly come in a boost to cumulative capital development funds. For cumulative fire funds Wayne Township would see $18,545 more a year, Liberty, $9,881, and Union Township, $4,410. Fulton County’s cumulative capital development fund would receive $45,210. The Fulton County Airport Authority would receive $5,339 more for its cumulative airport building fund.

 

• Lila reports two things make this a good place for a wind farm: A relatively low population and the ability to connect to nearby high capacity electric transmission lines.

 

• Wind energy tax credits do not go to developers and operators. Lila said they play a part for the utility companies that purchase power from the wind farm operator. He said even if tax credits were eliminated wind energy is still viable. The current climate in Washington D.C., he said, would not have any effect on this project.

 

• Should the RES project go forward, the International Union of Operating Engineers believes there are plenty of Fulton County workers qualified for the job opportunities it will present, said James Gardner, Local 150’s business representative.

 

• RES has conducted studies over 18 months to determine if the area chosen for the wind farm meets regulations concerning migratory birds and bats. It uses guidance from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and also has been in contact with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Lila said.

RES: $90M impact Ault: No going back; Also, FEDCO supports RES plan

STRONG OPINIONS Fulton County Property Rights group posted this sign during Thursday’s wind energy forum, hosted in Fulton by the Fulton County Commissioners. The Sentinel photo/Shelby Lopez

(The following was originally published in The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Tuesday, November 14, 2017.)

RES: $90M impact Ault: No going back

Note: This is the third of three stories about the wind energy forum hosted Thursday by Fulton County Commissioners. Monday’s article featured Fulton County officials, the financial impact and legal requirements. On Friday was a general overview

BY WESLEY DEHNE
Staff Writer, The Sentinel

Attendees of a public forum last week heard very differing opinions on the impact a wind energy development project could have on Fulton County and its residents.

Brad Lila, director of development for RES – a renewable energy company interested in bringing 133 wind turbines to the county at an estimated investment of $591,055,643 – spoke about the potential benefits of the project.

“For the life of this project, the landowners in this county could get paid upwards of $90 million,” Lila said. “We’re looking at roughly, in this entire project area, 60-80 permanent jobs.”

He said that doesn’t account for the more than 300 construction jobs.

“There are a lot of construction folks here tonight, local construction folks that would very much appreciate the opportunity to build this project,” he said. “A project this size could take potentially two years, and that’s two years of really good income for those folks.” In a Thursday morning interview with The Sentinel, Lila said turbines could start going in by the spring of 2019 and be generating power by December of that year.

“We could even potentially start construction of access roads and turbine foundations in late 2018,” he said.

However, development of RES’ proposed wind farm is on hold until commissioners affirm, deny or modify a set of proposed amendments to the county’s commercial wind energy zoning ordinance.

A public hearing on them has been tentatively set for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20. A location for the hearing has not yet been determined.

During the public meeting, Lila stated that opposition to wind energy is “simply out of the fear of the unknown” and because “it’s difficult to accept change.”

“Wind energy is one of the most widely accepted and embraced forms of rural energy in the world. It is a technology that’s been around for decades, with over 50,000 wind turbines in the United States and over 225,000 turbines in the world,” he said. “It is an emotional subject, we fully understand that, but when wind turbines are constructed around the world, issues just go away.”

The latter comment drew laughter from those opposed to the project.

Nothing adverse

Lila went on to say that there are no scientific publications to support claims that wind turbines cause adverse health effects or devaluation of property. He called upon Christopher Ollson, an environmental health scientist from Canada whom RES paid, to speak on those claims.

“Statistically or medically, we’re not seeing the concerns that some of you may be reading on the internet,” Ollson said. He concluded there is no proof that properly located wind turbines cause widespread concerns, complaints or issues.

Speaking about the county’s proposed setbacks, Ollson said the infrasound and low-frequency noise that would be generated by the wind turbines would be “well below anything that would be a cause for concern.” He noted shadow flicker from wind turbines could be a nuisance but is not a health concern.

He also said the risk of ice being thrown off a wind turbine and striking a house, vehicle or person is “very, very low,” and the probability of a blade breaking off and striking an individual is less than being struck by lightning or being in an airplane crash.

In conclusion, Ollson said the county’s ordinance is well-designed and supported by the scientific merit of more than 80 available peer-reviewed articles.

The opposition

Following other presentations, an audience member with a raised voice asked, “Is there anyone out there who can give us the opposing point of view?”

“I’m here!” Aaron Ault responded.

Ault, a senior researcher at Purdue University and a fourth-generation Fulton County farmer, spoke on behalf of the Fulton County Property Rights group.

“… I come to this discussion heavily biased toward government not telling residents what they can do with their own land,” he said. “Clearly we can all agree that one of the core purposes of the commissioners is to side in favor of the county’s residents when there is a significant risk to public safety, health and welfare.”

He questioned: “Would you consider it the job of the commissioners to seriously consider transforming an agricultural county where the residents expect to be surrounded by crops, livestock and fall foliage into an industrial city with 300 skyscrapers, each taller than every single building in Indianapolis except the tallest one, Salesforce Tower?”

He said the three main concerns of Fulton County residents are their safety, health and financial welfare.

“You, as county commissioners, have been tasked with deciding how far from our homes and property lines these rotating skyscrapers can be planted. This decision will change the lives of all the people in this room except the RES representatives, who will leave,” he said. “If building the turbines turns out to be a mistake, and it has become that for so many other counties in the U.S. and abroad, then unfortunately it is a permanent mistake. There is no going back.”

He asked commissioners to adopt a wind turbine setback of 2,640 feet, or a half mile, from a property line.

Too close?

“Vestas, a Dutch manufacturer of wind turbines that are among those sold by RES, states in their operational safety manual that their own workers should not linger within 1,640 feet of the turbines. Yet, RES would like to place turbines only 1,200 feet from our homes,” he said.

Ault stated that turbulence from wind turbines will prevent emergency helicopter service from reaching many areas of the county. He also noted that the county’s fire departments are not equipped to fight a turbine fire.

In speaking of noise and shadow flicker, Ault said, “These have been found by the residents who live around them and in scientific studies all over the world to cause severe dizziness, vertigo, nausea, lack of sleep, depression, headaches and migraines.”

He added: “The list goes on and on. I want you to pay close attention to that list because you or someone you know in the county will experience some of these and you cannot say you did not know about this ahead of time.”

Ault also presented a chart showing that from 1980-2017 there were more than 2,000 wind turbine incidents. More specifically, there were reportedly 58 incidents per year for 37 years.

“You can scan the list, you’ll see plenty of fatal, fire, human injury, structural failure, human health problems …” he said.0

He said there would obviously be devaluation of property as a result of RES’ project because “nobody looking at buying a house would consider proximity to a 600-foot buzzing, blinking, rotating skyscraper.”

 

FEDCO supports RES plan

BY WESLEY DEHNE
Staff Writer, The Rochester Sentinel

Members of the audience at Thursday’s wind energy forum, organized by county commissioners, spoke both for and against a wind farm in Fulton County. Some people said they’re still undecided.

Comments from members of the 300-plus person audience:

  • Terry Lee: “After weighing many factors and various information, including the following general overview, the Fulton Economic Development Corp. Board has chosen to support and urges your support for the development of wind energy opportunities in Fulton County.”
  • Alan Reese: “Did you know that there are over 300 residents in Fulton County that are skilled, tradecraft people. They would love to be working on this project. The economic outlook is very good. The tax dollars, even as minute as they may be, will help everybody.”
  • Joe Wegner: “One of my concerns is the fact that we’ve had this meeting at this point versus five or six months ago when the project was first set up. I also have problems and concerns about if we have any recourse that the recourse is going to be handled by the plan commission, which has been nothing but complicit with the whole project … I really don’t have any faith in the Fulton County government to listen to the people that are going to have complaints.”
  • Scott Fred: “There should be a complaint resolution system as part of our ordinance that is handled by the county, so that there is a factual recording of complaints that there are problems of noise, flicker and other problems caused by wind turbines. … We can’t leave our health and safety concerns up to a wind developer.”
  • Derek Kaser: “I’ve been a Fulton County resident my entire life and I fully support this project. Not only do I believe it would be economically and environmentally friendly, I believe it will bring great jobs to our community and residents.”
  • Debbie Fred: “There has been a lot of talk tonight about our property values not decreasing. If that’s so, I would like a guarantee. According to a 2009 study by Appraisal Group One in Wisconsin, it was found in all cases with a 1-5 acre residential property, whether vacant or improved, there would be a negative impact in property values. If what the wind developer says is true and our property values will not decease then RES should be willing to give all property owners in the project footprint written guarantees for property values …”
  • Pat Brown: “I walked in truly undecided. I like the idea of alternative energy … and finding new and better ways to do things. Most of the people who are going to come here and work full time during the duration of the construction are not Fulton County. The promise of money … the numbers shown will get me almost a tank and a half of gas in years savings. Small towns are small for a reason, most of us could live somewhere else if we chose to. We’re not here because we’re getting rich. Saving me $96 a year in my taxes doesn’t really mean much to me when I’ve got a red blinking light like Erie Avenue back in the ’50s in Logansport. When I walked in tonight, I talked to one of the commissioners, who called me a Kool-Aid drinker … I’m serious when I say I want to talk about something. Being called a Kool-Aid drinker made up my mind.”
  • Rebecca Van Horn: “We’ve learned from other counties that the construction of industrial wind turbines can be very disruptive to the lives of the people living in the construction site due to the size and the noise of equipment used in construction. The location of access roads should be in the ordinance and should specify that access roads for industrial wind turbines not be located near homes.”
  • Patsy Clark: “I’m here to get an education. I have always been an environmentalist and I came through Fulton a couple weeks ago, saw the signs that said no wind farm, and I thought ‘Why would we not want clean energy?’ At the end of the day, there’s a bigger overview here, I think, than what we’re dealing with here tonight, and that is we need sustainable energy in this country and we need clean energy. I hope that the technology of today and the wind generators, if they are indeed put in this county, will be a real asset to the county, to the people and create a good, healthy situation for all of us.”
  • Brian Richter: “I was undecided when I walked in the door, and at the moment I’m still undecided. A couple of things I didn’t see tonight that I would have liked to see is the economic impact from income tax that this project would bring for the county, and then also what the county is going to do with that money. Where will this county be in 25 or 50 years with this project or without this project?” You’re never going to please everybody, so we just gotta understand what the whole benefits are …”
  • Rhonda Smith: “My property cannot be used as a safety easement for an industrial wind company without my permission and compensation. That is a land grab, and the commissioners are allowing the company to steal the use of my property when they make the setbacks from a house instead of property lines.”
  • Jim Perry: “We feel very comfortable having windmill energy in our land. Our information from relatives, farm operators and other folks living near windmills has been favorable. They say they’re safe, clean and installed responsibly. Landowners should have the right to use their land responsibly to generate income from these windmills.”
  • Elaine Bye: “I’m in favor of alternative energy sources, but health and property and agricultural rights must be honored. I’m totally against forcing wind turbines on landowners, which seems to happen if easements in zoning are not carefully established.”
  • Russ Phillips: “… There is something else that I think we can all identify with. Two words: Common sense. If I have a tower 1,200 feet in front of me, 1,200 feet to the right of me, 1,200 feet behind me, 1,200 feet to the left of me, common sense tells me I’m going to incur some noise, and not only noise, but also some property devaluation.”

Zoning, financial, legal details outlined at forum

SUPPORTERS Ed West, left, and Harold Gasaway, make their opinions known Thursday during Fulton County Commissioners’ wind power forum at the Fulton Community Center.

SPOKESMAN Aaron Ault speaks on behalf of the Fulton County Property Rights Group during Thursday’s wind power forum organized by Fulton County Commissioners.

OPPOSED A member of the audience at Fulton County Commissioners’ wind power forum holds a sign, but won’t show his face. The Sentinel photos/Shelby Lopez

(The following was originally published in The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Monday, November 13, 2017.)

BY WESLEY DEHNE
Staff Writer, The Sentinel

Hundreds of people turned out for a public meeting Thursday in Fulton County to hear information regarding a renewable energy company’s plans to develop a wind farm in the county.

The meeting was organized by Fulton County Commissioners, who are considering a set of proposed amendments to the county’s commercial wind energy zoning ordinance. Despite an occasional mild outburst and unsolicited applause from both camps, the tenor of the public meeting was fairly cordial.

“I know this is an emotional issue,” Fulton County Commission President Bryan Lewis said, asking attendees to hold their applause and be respectful. “We’re just trying to get as much information as quick as we can and get everybody who would like to speak through this.”

Prior to the meeting, representatives of renewable energy developer RES and the Fulton County Property Rights group spoke to the public and distributed handouts.

RES, which is interested in bringing 133 wind turbines to Fulton County at an estimated investment of $591,055,643, spoke about the potential benefits of its project.

The property rights group, which is calling for stricter wind turbine setbacks that would halt the development of RES’ project, spoke on the purported detriments and adverse effects of having to live near wind turbines.

Regulations

Fulton County Area Plan Director Casi Cowles was first on the agenda. She explained the county’s planning and zoning standards that apply to wind farms.

“One of the biggest questions is whether or not we currently have wind ordinances. We do, and they do allow wind development, so this is not something new in the Fulton County Zoning Ordinance,” she said. The plan commission began writing regulations in 2005. They were made effective in 2008 and have been modified once prior to the amendments now pending.

She said the ordinance was the culmination of multiple public hearings, meetings and talks between county officials and residents over the years. Ordinances of at least 14 other counties were also reviewed, she noted. “We’ve had many wind developers come in and talk to us, but it’s never gotten to this point,” she said.

Among the proposed amendments, Cowles discussed wind turbine setbacks, height restrictions, waivers, shadow flicker and noise, as well as the enforcement process if any wind turbine is declared unsafe or a public nuisance.

A setback of 1.5 times the total height of a wind turbine from a property line and 2 times the height from a residential dwelling are among the amendments being considered by commissioners. That would require a wind turbine of 600 feet to be located 900 feet from a property line and 1,200 feet from a residence.

Waivers

“There are waivers that are allowed for some of the proposed setbacks,” Cowles said. “A couple of the setbacks cannot be waived. Road right-of-way setbacks cannot be waived by anyone. Public utility easements, railroad right-of- ways, any established right-of-way or easement cannot be waived, so whatever that setback is that’s the setback that the turbine has to be.”

A setback waiver is allowed if participating landowners share a common property line or a nonparticipating landowner signs a waiver, Cowles said. She also noted there is no restriction on the maximum height of a wind turbine, but added that any wind energy conversion system, or WECS, with a height of more than 200 feet requires a special exception.

There is also a reciprocal setback included in the amendments stating that no dwelling can be constructed within 1,000 feet of an existing wind turbine.

“My suggestion to the commissioners would be to take a hard look at this code,” Cowles said. “There’s a lot of concern about this, and their concern is very valid. If I own a 12-acre parcel and I happen to sit within this, what if I want to split off a part of it and give it to my son? This particular code wouldn’t allow me to do that.”

She suggested commissioners either include a waiver in the ordinance related to the reciprocal setback or strike it completely. She also spoke about how setbacks could overlap into a parcel and restrict new home construction, an instance referred to as “trespass zoning.”

Other setbacks Cowles touched on include those related to DNR-controlled lakes, platted subdivisions, residential districts and incorporated municipal limits. She noted a half a mile setback is required from the Tippecanoe River due to the shifting flood plain and discussed how the Caston School Board requested a 660-foot setback.

Neighbors

“Their feelings on this were our tax base lives around us, and we want to restrict them as little as possible,” she said. “Some of the comments were also that they felt it was a good learning tool for the children.”

Cowles noted shadow flicker cannot occur more than 30 hours per year or 30 minutes in a day on any nonparticipating house within a one-mile radius of a wind turbine. There is also a proposed amendment stating that the noise generated from a wind turbine cannot exceed 50 decibels, which is measured 50 feet from the foundation of the nearest nonparticipating dwelling.

“Another big question that we keep getting is about the enforcement,” Cowles said. “As far as interference, with pre-construction we require a communication study for the company to go out and to look for these interference points. Post-construction, if an owner or operator receives a written complaint of interference then they have the duty to remedy that situation. If they fail to remedy that complaint, the plan commission can take action.”

Cowles said a warning letter would be issued to any wind energy developer if they’re found to be in violation of codes related to noise or shadow flicker. A $50 fine would be required 15 days after the issuance of such letter. The fine would then double and accrue up to $2,000.

“Then we take the person that is in violation to court,” Cowles said. If the county wins, “They pay our attorney fees, they pay their fine and they have to apply with the code.”

She went on to say: “Any WECS declared unsafe by the plan commission and declared a public nuisance has to be abated, repaired or removed. Any WECS that’s considered discontinued after one year without energy production is subject to removal … ”

Agreements required

She noted that before a wind farm project can be considered by the plan commission under a development plan review process, the developer and commissioners have to sign off on an economic development agreement, decommissioning plan, drainage plan and road use and road improvement plan.

“We require all of those contracts to be signed, so if those contracts cannot be negotiated and signed, it never comes to the plan commission for development plan review and the project never goes through,” she said.

Once that development process is approved, the wind energy developer is required to apply for a special use permit. Future owners are contractually obligated to assume all responsibilities of the original applicant.

“That’s the code in a nutshell,” Cowles said. “There are other codes. I just hit the high points because of the short time tonight.”

Online

The ordinance, including its proposed amendments, is available on the county’s website at https://www.co.fulton.in.us.

In answering questions from the public, Cowles said she believes a setback of 2,640 feet from a property line would negate development. “If that’s the purpose of the commissioners, then they can choose to put that in there,” she said. “If they want to allow development and make sure there’s kind of a happy medium, then they can look at other setbacks.”

She also answered a question about the potential devaluation of property, saying “I can tell you that I’ve actually spoke to assessors in White, Benton and Tipton counties. I asked them if the land values change, they said no. I had many people tell me they spoke to appraisers and realtors in those areas, including auction houses, and they said that they did not see a detrimental impact.”

Tax impact

Jason Semler of financial consulting firm H.J. Umbaugh & Associates followed Cowles, speaking on the financial impact of RES’ proposed project.

Semler estimated that RES’ investment of nearly $600 million would increase the assessed valuation in the wind farm area by $177 million. The property tax impact, he said, would mostly come in a boost to cumulative capital development funds. Tax caps would prevent a big difference on any other fund, he added, although all property owners would see a slight benefit.

Wayne Township, with 70 proposed turbines, would see a $91.8 million assessed value hike. That would mean $18,545 more a year for its cumulative fire fund. Liberty Township, with 50 proposed turbines, would see a $70.5 million assessed value hike and have $9,881 more a year for its cumulative fire fund. Property taxes in both townships would drop $91.21 on a $95,400 home – the median in the county. Estimated taxpayer impacts were also figured for Union and Rochester townships, where 13 wind turbines have been proposed by RES.

“Everyone in the county would see a slight benefit,” Semler said. “These townships will see the largest reduction because that is where the turbines will be located.”

Semler noted a business in Liberty, Wayne or Union townships would receive a property tax reduction of nearly $400 for every $100,000 of assessed value. He estimated there would also be a $7.26 reduction per acre of farmland in those townships.

Legal matters

Rick Hall, an attorney with Barnes and Thornburg, spoke in more depth on the agreements county officials would need to reach with RES prior to development.

“These agreements have not been negotiated yet with the wind company,” he said. “I’m speaking from experience of what we’ve negotiated in other counties and what I would recommend be used in this county.”

He spoke first of the road use agreement, saying “If the project goes forward, the wind company will have to use the county roads. The trucks that they bring the turbines in on are massive, and your roads don’t have the capacity to accommodate those trucks.”

He said RES would have an obligation to “build up the roads to make sure they can use them safely.”

“At the completion of the project, they have to restore the roads to a certain condition and that condition is agreed upon upfront between the county and the wind company,” he added. “One of the benefits that we’ve seen in other counties is that, at the end of the day, you typically have roads that are better than what you had at the start.”

Hall went on to say that RES would be required to post third-party security under the road use agreement to ensure that any damage is fixed. Similar conditions would be required under a drainage agreement, he said.

A surety

Financial backing in the form of a letter of credit, surety bond or cash would also be required of RES under the decommissioning agreement. This agreement, Hall said, protects the county if a wind developer goes bankrupt or abandons its system. At one point he drew laughter from the audience when he referred to wind turbines as eyesores.

Of an economic development agreement, Hall said: “This would be some cash that would go to the county that could be used to do other economic development in the county. It could be shared with other taxing units in the county. It’s been handled a number of different ways in other areas of the state. … This provides some additional cash that can really be rolled into a significant project in the community.”

Tuesday: Comments from RES, the Fulton County Property Rights group and the audience – both for and against.