In favor, opposed and undecided: Wind forum draws big crowd

FOR AND AGAINST Citizens filled Fulton Community Center Thursday for county commissioners’ wind energy forum, hearing from those for and against a wind farm, from county officials and consultants. The Sentinel photo/Shelby Lopez.

(The following was originally published in The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Friday, November 10, 2017.)

Managing Editor, The Sentinel

Union workers want the jobs a wind farm would bring.

Concerned citizens want their health and welfare to come first.

Some believe development of wind energy is the green thing to do.

All those opinions were heard Thursday when Fulton County Commissioners staged a wind energy forum at the Fulton Commu n i t y Building. At least 300 people attended the two-hour forum, which included information on how a wind farm would benefit taxpayers and how the county arrived at its present wind energy conversion standards. Here’s an overview:

• Many wind energy developers have entertained the idea of development in Fulton County, said Fulton County Area Plan Director Casi Cowles. “This is the first time it’s gotten to this point.”

She explained the county’s planning and zoning standards that apply to wind farms. The plan commission began writing them in 2005. They were effective in 2008 and have been amended once prior to the amendments now pending before commissioners.

RES’ project is on hold until commissioners affirm, deny or amend the proposed changes. A public hearing on them is tentatively set for Nov. 20.

• Should that be settled, and enough landowners allow the use of their property, RES proposes as many as 133 turbines in Fulton County and a total investment of $600 million, said Umbaugh’s Jason Semler, hired by the county to determine financial impact of a wind farm.

That investment 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.

Example: 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. Property taxes in the township would drop $91.21 on a $95,400 home – the median in the county.

• To protect itself the county would require three agreements with wind developers, said Rick Hall, an attorney with Barnes and Thornburg who’s worked on wind farm agreements across Indiana. They would require: a road use agreement to guarantee damage is fixed after construction; a decommissioning agreement in case of bankruptcy or system abandonment; and an economic development agreement laying out possible incentives from the county or payments from the company to the county.

• Brad Lila, RES’ development director, spoke briefly about the benefits of wind power, then called up Christopher Ollson, a scientist from Canada who studies renewable energy. Ollson’s main point: Based on scientific merit of more than 80 available peer reviewed articles, there’s no proof wind turbines cause widespread health issues, he said.

• Ollson wasn’t the only researcher to speak. On behalf of Fulton County Property Rights Group – citizens opposed to wind turbine development in the county – Aaron Ault spoke.

Ault farms in the wind turbine area – south of Fulton County Road 400 in this county – and is a senior research engineer for the Open Air Technology Group at Purdue University. He holds a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering, signal processing and wireless networking from Purdue.

He compared the turbines to new Trump Towers. The turbines, with their spinning blades and blinking red lights, would be taller than all but one building in downtown Indianapolis, he said. “He told you this would not affect property values. Trust him,” Ault said sarcastically.

• Unions are in favor. Representatives of the International Union of Operating Engineers Locals 103 and 150 were on hand, sporting signs supporting the wind farm.

The positive impact of the project is easy to verify, said James Gardner, business representative for Local 150. The RES project would provide great revenue, long term maintenance work, a major influx in vendors and road improvements. He’s confident, he said, this area has the needed qualified workforce to keep jobs local.

• Citizens spoke in favor, against and in general about the wind farm. Some said they came undecided and will leave undecided.

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