(The following article was originally published by the “Kokomo Tribune” of Kokomo, Indiana on Friday, December 15, 2017.)
Some residents oppose setback requirements; say ordinance is outdated
Carson Gerber Kokomo Tribune
PERU – The Miami County Planning and Building Commission Wednesday voted to create a study committee to review the county’s wind farm ordinance after local residents expressed concerns about a project that could bring 75 turbines to the northern part of the county.
Dozens of anti-wind residents packed the meeting room to oppose the wind farm project proposed by RES, an international renewable energy company with its U.S. headquarters based in Colorado.
Four residents specifically requested the commission issue an immediate moratorium on issuing permits for the turbines, saying the county’s wind farm ordinance is outdated and allows unsafe setbacks from homes.
The ordinance was approved in 2011 by the commission, and requires a 1,000-foot setback from homes, a turbine blade-length setback from property lines and a 60-decibel noise limit.
But Becky Mahoney, who lives in the project area and has been a vocal opponent of the wind farm, said the ordinance allowed for “trespass zoning,” since landowners could not build a home within 1,000 feet of a turbine even if the tower wasn’t on their property.
“No one should be forced to surrender their property to an industrial wind developer … without first getting their consent and compensation,” she said. “Anything less, gentleman, is trespass zoning.”
Greg Deeds, a former Miami County commissioner who works as a land surveyor, agreed. He said the only way to make the ordinance fair would be to define setbacks from property lines, not residences.
“The ordinance needs to be fixed,” he said. “It needs to be fixed so that setbacks are from the property line. If I bought the land and I worked for it, I should be able to use it.”
Resident Kirby Lane said he thought the ordinance was too lax, ambiguous and would allow companies to take advantage of the county by installing unsafe wind developments. He said wind turbines have changed dramatically since the county passed its ordinance in 2011.
“Miami County needs a bullet-proof ordinance based on real engineering principals to protect us,” Lane said. “Just because we are backwoods doesn’t mean our ordinance should reflect that.”
But Brad Lila, director of development for RES who is in charge of the project, said the company would build the wind farm with more stringent guidelines than the county ordinance requires.
He said RES standards require turbines to be built 1,500-feet from residences, a turbine tip-length from property lines and a 50-decibel sound limit.
“We are exceeding your setback standards, and we’re proud of that,” Lila said. “I’m here to tell you that we will live up to that.”
He said the company would also build only two to three turbines per square mile since the structures would stand around 600-feet high. The wind farms in Benton and White counties, for example, have up to eight turbines per square mile, Lila said.
“By going 100 feet taller, we can essentially double the amount of energy being generated from one of these turbines,” he said.
Jim Tidd, executive director of the Miami County Economic Development Authority, told the plan commission the wind-farm project would bring a $392 million investment to the county that would generate $6.4 million in new tax revenue over the next 10 years (assuming the company receives a tax abatement).
He said RES has already made a considerable investment in the county and leased 192 parcels of land from landowners who support the project, and changing the ordinance now would be unfair.
“They reviewed the ordinance in existence and found that (the project) was doable,” Tidd said. “They made a significant investment. To change the game now, in my opinion, is unfair.”
After listening to around two hours of comments, the plan commission voted to form a study group to review the ordinance.
Members Richard Hendricks, Jon Reibly, Gregg Wilkinson and Jason Bowman voted in favor of the study group. Larry West and Randy Hileman vote against it.
Member Ethan Manning, who represents the county council on the commission, abstained from the vote since his family owns land in the project area.
“I think this is the most appropriate course of action for me to avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest,” he said.
Corey Roser, the Miami County Purdue Extension Educator, also abstained from the vote since it was the first plan commission meeting he had attended.
Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @carsongerber1.