(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.