Wind debate has disrupted ‘country life’

Tipton County Indiana (east of Kokomo, IN).

(The following was originally published in the Pharos-Tribune of Logansport, IN on February 2, 2018.)

Ashly Berry Guest columnist

I have lived in Cass County my entire life. I am your typical “small town girl.” I married a farmer, bought a house and have three beautiful children.

We have built a life here in this beautiful section of America, and we are happy here. We love the open landscape, the bright night stars, the summer skies filled with fireflies and the quiet peacefulness of the countryside. I love my neighbors. I love the families that my children attend school with. I love that I know all of my children’s teachers and can call many of them friends. I love that when I go grocery shopping I usually run into people I know, and that along the way to town I can name most of the people that live in the homes that I pass. This is “the country life.”

But lately in Cass County, our sweet country life has been disrupted. It’s like there is an elephant in the room everywhere I go. A topic that you are afraid to mention for fear of what that person you’ve known your whole life might think. Do we agree? Do we disagree? Will things be awkward between us if I say the wrong thing? This big bad elephant has blown into town and things just haven’t been the same since. Neighbors aren’t speaking, families did not get together for Christmas, people stopped attending church, friendships torn apart … this is NOT the country life.

What is this big bad beast that has blown into town? Wind. No, not the cool breeze you feel while sitting on your porch in the evening. This is a storm. The kind that has made us all hide in our houses while we wait for it to blow over. But unfortunately, this is the worst storm we’ve ever had, and it may not blow over.

Cass County passed an ordinance years ago allowing industrial wind farms to be placed just 1,000 feet from our homes. At a time, when turbines were around 300 feet tall, this meant a setback was more than three times the height of a turbine. You would think that because our proposed turbines could be over 800 feet, our ordinance would be updated to at least 2,400 feet. But no, our commissioners are not budging.

My home is surrounded by land that has been signed over to the wind developer, so I very well may be boxed in by giant turbines. Giant is not an overstatement. These behemoths will stretch between 660-820 feet into the sky — the sky that was once open and untainted.

That is not the life I chose. That is not the life my parents chose for me. My parents and grandparents knew what a wonderful place this was to live and raise a family in, and they had hoped that I would do the same. Unfortunately, I am left with a difficult decision. Do I stay and endure the broken friendships, the broken family, the littered landscape and the possibility of health problems for me and my children, or do I pack up and leave?

I am angry that I was put in this situation. I am angry that our commissioners are refusing to revisit our wind ordinance and are not even considering the possibility that this could be the biggest mistake of their lives, and the lives of thousands of people.

Whether or not you will live next to a turbine, your life will change. Our lives will change. Our culture will change. Do you really think our small town life will just return to normal once the turbines are built? Do you think those opposed will just adapt and get over it? I have even heard some insensitive people say, “Then move!” That is certainly something we are considering, but unfortunately, there are at least 1,485 of us considering it. That’s how many people signed the petition to try and change the fate of our county. How will 1,485 people be able to sell their homes? That’s more than 4 times the population of some local towns! Four whole towns of people … gone? What would that do to our local economy? What would that do to our local schools? What would that do to our way of life?

I am just one person, but I am one of many families that have lived here for generations. These generations and these families are the ones who built this county and this way of life. And we are being told to move? Wow. What a sense of community.

There is one thing I plan on doing before I move, if it comes to that. It will be to move my vote to another choice for commissioner in the next election. That is one move the majority of us are anxious to make.

Ashly Berry is a resident of Cass County.

Federal commission denies wind farm developer’s (RES) request

Tipton County Indiana (east of Kokomo, IN).

(The following was originally published in the Pharos-Tribune of Logansport, IN on Friday, February 16, 2018.)

Federal commission denies wind farm developer’s request
Waiver would have allowed for speedy equipment site relocation

Mitchell Kirk Staff reporter 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has denied a request from the developer behind wind turbines proposed for Cass and Miami counties that would have allowed it to easily change where it connects with an electric transmission grid.

The Feb. 9 FERC order addresses Harvest Wind Energy LLC’s petition for a waiver of PJM Interconnection LLC’s Open Access Transmission Tariff. Harvest Wind Energy is the turbine project proposed by Renewable Energy Systems Americas, or RES, in northern Cass and Miami counties while PJM Interconnection operates a regional electric transmission system.

The waiver would have allowed Harvest Wind Energy to change its point of interconnection without requiring additional evaluation under the tariff, according to the FERC order. The denial won’t necessarily derail the project, but will likely delay it.

Harvest Wind Energy intends to interconnect with transmission lines owned by AEP Indiana Michigan Transmission Company Inc. using a switching station planned to be constructed about 39 miles between switching stations near Dumont and Greentown, the order continues.

Before initiating a facilities study under the PJM Interconnection tariff, the order states AEP notified the original developer of the wind project of concerns regarding the parcel initially being considered for the switching station.

 Those concerns included infrastructure that would have to be moved and potential proximity to wooded wetlands that would require additional approvals and mitigation, according to the order. In light of those concerns, the order states AEP and the original wind developer agreed to plan for the switching station to be constructed in an adjacent location.

 RES bought Harvest Wind Energy after the new switching station location was selected, the order continues, adding it was later discovered that the new location shared many of the same issues affecting the first.

Harvest Wind Energy approached PJM Interconnection about another new location for the switching station almost 3 miles from the second consideration, according to the order.

But PJM Interconnection indicated its tariff would not permit a change in the point of interconnection location at the stage interconnection studies were currently in, the order states.

Harvest Wind Energy maintained an interconnection construction service agreement and the project’s interconnection study reports refer to the point of interconnection being about 39 miles from the Dumont and Greentown substations, which would still apply to the newly desired location, according to the order.

Also part of Harvest Wind Energy’s request for the waiver was the claim that the determination for the second switching station location was an error made “in good faith,” the order states.

The order recalls PJM Interconnection’s indication that if the waiver was granted, PJM Interconnection would need at least six months to do a new facilities study on the new project location, disrupting its “overall interconnection process” while causing “harm to other interconnection customers…”

The timing surrounding the discovery of issues that compromise the original point of interconnection demonstrated “a lack of due diligence,” on Harvest Wind Energy’s part, according to the order.

FERC also indicated it agrees with PJM Interconnection’s stance that changing the point of interconnection “at this late stage would introduce uncertainty that could well impact other… customers and that such restudy of the point of interconnection would require” more time and evaluation.

The order refers to PJM Interconnection’s indication “that while it appreciates that Harvest Wind may have a concern regarding the delay,” the tariff does not prevent the developer from seeking its desired point of interconnection through a new interconnection request.

Brad Lila, director of development with RES’ Minneapolis office, said by phone Friday that Harvest Wind Energy will likely pursue a new interconnection request, adding it remains unknown what kind of effect the resulting delay would have on the project.

Reach Mitchell Kirk at mitchell.kirk@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5130

GUEST COLUMN: Size matters in ongoing debate over wind turbines

Tipton County Indiana (east of Kokomo, IN).

(The following was originally published in the Pharos-Tribune of Logansport, Indiana on Friday, January 26, 2018.)

Paige Woodhouse, Guest Columnist

Logansport Mayor Dave Kitchell recently voiced his opinion on Cass County’s proposed Wind Farm in a Pharos-Tribune column. His stance seems to be based on the financial benefits of the project. While the opinion of a mayor, if based on sound evidence, is certainly something to consider, it should not be used as supportive evidence for this project. Kitchell acknowledged that the city (his jurisdiction) would not directly benefit from the project. He encouraged Cass County residents to blow with the “winds of change.” It seems that when you consider the size and scale of this project, the financial benefits are a mild breeze — but those who would live among the turbines would feel the storm.

Kitchell stated that “Windmills will add to our capacity to generate power, and we have a growing demand for it in Indiana.” While growing demand is a fact, the first part of his statement is misleading. Renewable Energy Systems (RES), the foreign-owned company proposing the project, intends to run an underground web of power lines through Cass and Miami counties, which would hook into an already established grid, sending the power out to the east coast. Many here in Cass County seem to think this project is responsible as it would provide us with clean energy here at home. This is simply false. Cass County will not be using the power generated from these turbines, and we should not be led to believe so, especially by the Mayor.

Kitchell did, however, make a point that is truthful and we should all pay attention. He said, “Windmills represent minimal impact if appropriate setbacks are adopted. Setbacks are a local issue. As Cass County has been more restrictive than other counties in approving setbacks for confined feeding operations, so too can it be restrictive in mitigating noise and any other issues, including falling ice or snow.” Yes, our local officials should create restrictive setbacks in order to protect the safety, health and property values of the citizens that would be affected. The problem, however, is that they have failed to do so and are refusing to consider changes.

Commissioners Jim Sailors, Ralph Anderson and Jeff LeDonne hold all the power with establishing “safe” setbacks in Cass County. Many citizens have voiced their concerns that the current setbacks, established in 2009, are outdated and not applicable to this project. It seems that the “winds of change” could bring the largest turbines in the nation to Cass County. The 150 turbines here would be between 3.6-4.2MW turbines, standing between 660-820 feet tall. This is quite a change from the average 300-400 foot turbines of 2009, when Cass County’s setbacks were established.

Concerned citizens have been asking the commissioners and the planning board — Sailors is the president of both — to revisit the wind ordinance for months, but their requests have been repeatedly ignored and denied. Sailors explained that they have signed a confidentiality agreement with RES preventing them from releasing details to the public until the project is finalized. However, RES does not control the setback details, as Kitchell stated. Those fall under the local jurisdiction of the three commissioners. The only reason the commissioners have offered as to why they are refusing to revisit the wind ordinance is changing the setbacks at this stage would be unfair to landowners as it would essentially stop the project.

Those advocating for safer setbacks have offered a considerable amount of reliable data showing a clear need for updating Cass County’s ordinance. Sailors also explained that they are attempting to keep our ordinance consistent with neighboring White County so that we can be competitive. However, White County’s turbines are half the size (only 1.5-1.65MW) of those proposed here. In addition, White County has nearly 14,000 fewer people and 100 more square miles than Cass County, meaning areas where their turbines are placed are far less populated than here. If our county’s population, square miles and size of turbines are not comparable, how then can our wind ordinance be the same and still be considered safe?

In a simple search for comparable wind energy projects in the U.S., only two can currently be found — Block Island Wind Farm, 3.8 miles off the coast of Rhode Island, and a 15-turbine wind farm off the coast of New York. Each has turbines in the 600-foot range, but they are all in the ocean. New York’s wind farm plans to expand to 200 turbines placed over 256 square miles of ocean, allowing 1.5 miles per turbine. If a 600-foot turbine standing in the ocean requires a 1.5 mile radius around it, why then is it considered safe to place one only 1,500 feet from a home?

Common sense says that our setbacks should be based on the size of our project, and on unbiased safety data. The Minnesota Department of Commerce completed a study in 2011, when the average height of an industrial wind turbine was around 400 feet. It compiled data from 15 experienced wind power nations around the world. The study found that these nations completed their own research on sound and shadow flicker from turbines, and created nationwide regulations establishing safe setbacks. In other words, they found that if the turbines are placed at safe distances, sound and shadow flicker are not an issue for residents.

The study includes data from Denmark, the nation with the highest wind energy capacity per capita, per land area and per GDP in the world. Denmark recommends setbacks of four times the height of a turbine, which would require setbacks of between 2,640-3,280 feet for Cass County. Denmark also has a policy requiring that if someone living within six times the height of a turbine loses a minimum of 1% of their property value due to proximity of a turbine, the wind developer must reimburse that person for their loss.

The Netherlands, the country that manufactures the turbines that RES uses, also recommends setbacks of four times the height of a turbine. They also require sound restrictions of 41 decibels at night and 47 during the day. Cass County currently allows 60 decibels. France has even stricter sound limits of only 25 decibels within residences near turbines. Germany requires setbacks of at least 3,280 feet and sound limits of 35 decibels at night and 45 decibels during the day.

These are entire nations, basing their setbacks on scientific studies, and with turbines half the height of what RES is proposing here. All of this data has been presented to the commissioners and the planning board, yet they have offered no evidence supporting the current wind ordinance. Recently, Fulton County’s commissioners decided that this project was not the right fit for them, after reviewing this same data and listening to their residents.

Sailors admitted that he is “not listening to the people.” It seems that our officials may be enjoying the comfortable breeze blowing from financial promises, and turning their backs on the coming storm. The sheer size of this project should cause anyone to pause and consider more than just money. Elected officials swear an oath to protect the safety, health and welfare of all citizens. It’s time for them to make good on that promise.

Paige Woodhouse lives in Royal Center

Landowners sue Cass County over wind rules

Tipton County Indiana (east of Kokomo, IN).

(The following was originally published online by the Logansport Pharos Tribune of Logansport, Indiana on Wednesday, January 24, 2018.)

Mitchell Kirk, Staff Reporter

Three Cass County property owners are suing the Cass County Commissioners over the county’s wind energy rules.

John L. Baker, Mike Gingerich and William Randall Cole filed the lawsuit against the commissioners on Jan. 17 in Cass Circuit Court. All three own agriculturally zoned land in Cass County, according to their complaint.

The complaint refers to Cass County’s wind energy conversion systems ordinance, which requires wind turbines to be at least 1,000 feet from homes. That means no homes can be constructed within 1,000 feet of wind turbines, which the complaint states “authorizes the taking of private property without compensation being paid.”

Cass County’s wind energy ordinance violates the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, according to the complaint, which states “private property shall not be taken for public use, without just compensation.” It also violates the Indiana Constitution, the complaint continues.

“Under Indiana law, setback requirements must be reasonable since they interfere with the enjoyment of property rights,” the complaint states.

The regulation’s measuring of setbacks from residences instead of property lines is “unreasonable,” according to the complaint, adding the ordinance “should be declared void.”

The complaint seeks a court order declaring Cass County’s wind energy ordinance to be void to the extent of its residential setback rule and that the setback should be measured instead from property lines.

The lawsuit comes as Renewable Energy Systems Americas out of Broomfield, Colorado, pursues a wind turbine project in northern Cass and Miami counties.

“Upon information and belief, the project will be located on property adjacent to the plaintiffs’ properties,” the complaint states.

Cass County Attorney Jeff Stanton responded to the lawsuit in an email Wednesday.

“The county asserts that the setbacks are, in fact, reasonable,” Stanton wrote.

He added Barnes & Thornburg’s Indianapolis office will likely represent Cass County in the case.

Baker, Gingerich and Cole are represented by Syracuse-based Snyder Morgan Federoff & Kuchmay LLP, according to their complaint.

Reach Mitchell Kirk at mitchell.kirk@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5130