Former official talks of turbines (‘I wish someone had done it for me’)

GROUNDED Above, Tipton County resident Greg Merida stands next to a wind turbine blade that broke and fell on his property in March 2014; below, another failed blade sits at the base of its turbine in the Wildcat I wind farm in Tipton County in April 2014. Tipton County has experienced a total of three blade failures, reports former county commissioner Jane Harper. Photos provided

(The following was originally published in The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Friday, November 3, 2017. Slight formatting and editing changes have been made.)

BY CHRISTINA M. SEILER
Managing Editor, The Sentinel

Jane Harper wishes she knew then what she knows now.

The former Tipton County commissioner said Thursday she was responsible for helping approve Wildcat I Wind Farm in Tipton County and now greatly regrets that.

She read Fulton County’s proposed zoning code changes pertaining to commercial wind farms, she said, and was “absolutely stunned.”

So she reached out to The Sentinel via a Viewpoint page letter to the editor. That’s on Page 4 today. And she talked with The Sentinel over the telephone, noting she couldn’t say everything she wanted to in a single letter.

Harper is outspoken on the issue of large-scale wind energy production. She said everyone in her county was in the dark about the long-lasting effects of the wind farm. There are many. They now suffer for a variety of reasons, she said.

She believes Fulton County officials, if they approve amendments to the current zoning ordinance covering wind farms, will end up with “the weakest ordinance ever.”

She noted 1.5 times setback for a 500-foot-tall wind turbine would be 750 feet. Really not that much, she said.

She also said the fact the amendments remove the requirement that wind farms get special exceptions is “robbing the public of their right to a judicial review.”

If a special exception is granted, citizens can fight that through the court and the case goes to a judge in another county. “It puts it in the lens of someone on the outside,” Harper said. “So that is huge if they pass that. When I saw that I was absolutely stunned.”

Harper learned of Fulton County’s current situation through National Wind Watch, an organization that tracks wind power projects.

“I don’t have anything in it. I’m doing it because I wish someone had done it for me,” she said of informing people in potential wind farm areas about the pitfalls.

Not only is she living with her decision as a former county commissioner, but she lives in a wind farm area among the towers.

Harper also said:

  • Fulton County can’t compare a proposed project here to the ones in Benton and White counties. The towers are not the same size, nor are the population densities there. In White County, every single resident is compensated by the wind power company. Also, the towers there are smaller, in both height and blade size.
  • The presence of towers is constant. She said you can see the strobe lights on turbines from 15 miles at night. Noise can only be experienced fully by living among the towers. She compared it to when a jet passes over. In that case, the sound goes away. But among the towers it can be constant. At other times, the towers can sound like a pack of barking dogs, or like bearings moving. Sometimes, she said, there’s no sound. It’s all dependent on the weather, which changes constantly. “The shadow flicker, it’s real. The noise, it’s real,” Harper said.
  • She compared the financial offer of $4,000 per tower, which she read somewhere, to raping Fulton County citizens. Tipton County residents received $14,000 per tower.
  • Fulton County is probably one of the last counties in the state approached about a wind energy project for one simple reason – the wind here isn’t very good. That’s why taller towers are proposed, she said. Add in the county’s weak ordinance, she said, and the company sees profit. “Why do you think you’re one of the last counties in Indiana to be approached? You’re easy pickings,” she said.
  • The promises Tipton County received from the wind energy company were

false. “Not one person in our county was employed,” Harper said. After the first year of tower operations, she added, the county, its citizens and organizations received no more goodwill or contact from the company. “There’s nothing anymore. You don’t hear from them. They don’t care.”

  • The true benefits to people and government, including schools, from the wind project were negligible. Property taxes dropped about $25 a year. “That’s nothing. That’s like two pizzas. Big deal,” Harper exclaimed.

Note: Read comments and response from county officials in Saturday’s edition of The Sentinel.

 

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