(The following was originally published in The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Friday, December 1, 2017.)
BY WESLEY DEHNE
Staff Writer, The Sentinel
Rochester City Council ruled Tuesday that any commercial wind turbines placed in Fulton County must be located three miles from city limits.
The ruling followed a presentation by Fulton County Area Plan Director Casi Cowles, who spoke about proposed amendments to a section of the county’s zoning ordinance that governs wind energy conversion systems, or WECS.
“The reason why you have the ability, or you have the requirement, that you need to approve amendments to this code is because there is also a setback in this code that is from municipal boundaries,” Cowles told the council. “Your incorporated limits also has a setback and because of that this code is actually effective in every single area within the county. All the legislative bodies have to look at this code and approve the original one and then approve any amendment to it.”
The amendments were certified by the Fulton County Plan Commission in late September and have since received considerable criticism by those opposed to a three-county wind farm proposal by UK-based developer Renewable Energy Systems, or RES.
Last week, county commissioners Bryan Lewis and Rick Ranstead threw a wrench into the company’s plans by voting to remove commercial wind farms from the county’s zoning ordinance.
Cowles informed city council members that commissioners’ vote, along with written comments as to why they chose to make that decision, now goes before the plan commission for consideration. The plan commission, by state law, has the ability to agree or disagree with commissioners’ determination.
“If they agree then it’s effective in the unincorporated area. If they disagree then they send back their changes and their reasoning of why they disagree, and commissioners would have another vote,” Cowles said. “Once they have that other vote then whatever they decide is effective.”
The plan commission meets 7 p.m. Dec. 11 in the Community Building at the Fulton County 4-H Fairgrounds to make a determination on the ordinance and its proposed amendments.
The proposed amendments cover a litany of regulations for both commercial and noncommercial WECS from the height of towers, setbacks, shadow flicker and noise to blade clearance, substation requirements, post-construction requirements and interference with telecommunication systems. Other amendments address topics regarding drainage, liability insurance, warning mechanisms, signage, climb prevention and the decommissioning of wind turbines.
The original ordinance, which was approved in January 2008, calls for a setback of 1,500 eet for commercial wind turbines from the incorporated limits of a municipality, platted community or residential district. That’s significantly shorter than the 3-mile setback the city council requested Tuesday. The ordinance does include a waiver option if the city council deems it necessary.
The council, upon the suggestion of Cowles, also chose to redefine noncommercial WECS. The newly proposed definition: “All necessary devices that together convert wind energy into electricity, independently consume the electricity for on-site distribution to a farm, school, business, factory, or the like, and do not receive monetary compensation for the energy except under the parameters of on-site distribution. This includes but is not limited to the blades, rotor, nacelle, generator, WECS tower, electrical components, WECS foundation, transformer, electrical cabling from the WECS Tower to the substation(s), switching stations, meteorological towers, communication facilities, and other required facilities and equipment, as related to a WECS Project.”
The new definition specifies any potential monetary compensation from a noncommercial wind turbine can fall under the parameters of on-site distribution.
According to Cowles, the Fulton Town Council has also approved this new definition. Unlike Rochester City Council, she said, the Fulton Town Council approved all the certified amendments including the setback of 1,500 feet from the town’s incorporated boundary.
The setbacks from the incorporated limits of Kewanna and Akron are still to be decided on by their respective town councils. The Kewanna Town Council meets 6 p.m. Thursday at Kewanna Town Hall, and Akron Town Council meets 6 p.m. Dec. 18 at Akron Town Hall.