Fulton County: Pledge to stop turbines signed by commissioners

Tipton County Indiana (east of Kokomo, IN).

(The following was originally published in The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Thursday, January 18, 2018.)

BY WESLEY DEHNE
Staff Writer, The Sentinel

A local citizens group opposing a proposed commercial wind farm chalked up another win in Fulton County on Monday.

Two of three Fulton County Commissioners, Bryan Lewis and Rick Ranstead, signed a pledge stating that as long as they hold public office they will not allow commercial wind turbines in the county. Commissioner Steve Metzger refused to sign, saying he wasn’t interested.

“I mean, we’ve already voted to take it out,” he said, questioning, “What else do you want?”

Lewis and Ranstead signed a resolution in December that prohibits commercial wind energy conversion systems, or WECS, in the unincorporated areas of the county. Metzger did not participate in the signing of that resolution. He recused himself from any county business related to wind energy development. That resolution goes into effect today.

Lynn Plummer-Studebaker, who conceived of the pledge and has been fighting against a proposed three-county wind farm considered by Renewable Energy Systems, or RES, told Metzger the purpose of pledge was to give commissioners an opportunity to make their intentions known for the future.

“We’re thankful and relieved about the ban on industrial turbines, so we will forever be grateful for that,” she said, adding opposition efforts are now being undertaken in Cass and Miami counties. “We worry, of course, that RES is going to come back if this project goes through in either of the other two counties or if another company would come in and buy those leases, and they would approach you with a new project.”

She continued: “We do hear from our friends that we’ve made recently in Miami and Cass that they do hear from some officials there that this project is not dead in Fulton County … I think it would mean not only a lot to us, as your constituents, but also to other people who are worried about the project as well.”

She took her fight against commercial wind farms to the Indiana Statehouse on Wednesday to testify in favor of House Bill 1338.

If approved, the bill would make it a criminal offense for a public official to not disclose any conflicts of interests with the development of a wind farm. Secondly, it outlines that after June 30 the siting of any proposed wind turbine would first have to be approved by voters.

Wind farm developers would also be required to make certain disclosures regarding conflicts of interest involving elected or unelected officials. If they violate the law they could be subject to fines of $50,000 or more.

“We are pleased with this bill overall but a few things do need to be changed,” Plummer-Studebaker told The Sentinel in an email.

“The current language of the bill establishes a minimum setback distance of 2,200’ from a dwelling,” she continues in her email. “We have already expressed concern that this distance must be measured from a nonparticipant property line, not a dwelling.”

Fulton County resident Russ Phillips, who has been critical of the proposed wind farm from the outset, asked commissioners when the meteorological or “MET” towers, which have been collecting data for RES, would come down.

“I’m not sure,” Lewis responded. “I’m sure they have a contract for data gathering with the landowners … I’d say they’ve got a contract, and they’re going to leave them up as long as the contract is because we did what we did.”

Phillips responded: “When the MET towers do come down, I think that would just be a further indication to Fulton County that it’s not happening and it’s not going to be happening in the near future, as far as commercial wind energy.”

Phillips also asked when the county’s zoning ordinance, which regulates both commercial and noncommercial wind turbines, would be amended and made available online. County Attorney Greg Heller directed him to Area Plan Director Casi Cowles for that information.

(Cass) Wind opponents: petition exceeds 1,300

Tipton County Indiana (east of Kokomo, IN).

(The following was originally published in the “Pharos~Tribune” online of Logansport, Indiana on Monday, December 18, 2017.)

Company maintains project will benefit county through jobs, taxes

Mitchell Kirk Staff reporter

Opponents of a proposed wind turbine project in northern Cass County submitted a petition to leaders with over 1,300 signatures Monday.

It was the second consecutive Cass County Commissioners meeting to draw a crowd that spilled out into the hallway, many of them wearing buttons illustrating their opposition to a project aiming to bring as many as 150 wind turbines to Adams, Bethlehem, Boone and Harrison townships.

Renewable Energy Systems, or RES, an international company headquartered in England with a U.S. headquarters in Colorado, is behind the project.

During the public comments portion of Monday’s meeting, Dave Redweik gave commissioners a petition he said contained 1,308 signatures from Cass County residents and landowners requesting officials change the county’s rules regulating wind turbines.

Among the desired changes are requiring wind turbines to be 2,640 feet, or a half mile, from property lines, Redweik said.

He and others at Monday’s meeting reiterated their qualms with Cass County basing it’s wind rules on White County’s, whose turbines are about half the height of those being proposed locally.

Current Cass County rules call for wind turbines to be the length of a turbine blade from property lines.

Brad Lila, development director for RES, said by phone Monday that the company has yet to choose a turbine model for the project, but maintained the turbines will stand about 600 feet tall and not exceed 700 feet. He added RES’ setbacks for the project will be 1.1 times a turbine’s height from nonparticipating property lines. That height will be measured to the tip of a blade pointing straight up, Lila also said.

Cass County Commissioners President Jim Sailors repeated after Monday’s meeting that there are no plans to revisit the county’s wind ordinance, especially boosting property line setbacks to 2,640 feet, which he said “would essentially stop the project” and would be unfair to landowners in favor of the project.

Cass County regulations also require commercial wind turbines to be 1,000 feet from residential dwellings as well. The ordinance does not put a limit on turbine heights but indicates heights have to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Ashly Berry cited a 2011 Minnesota Department of Commerce study that reported stricter wind turbine rules in countries across the world. For instance, the study reported rules in Denmark requiring wind turbines to have setbacks of four times their height, decibel limits ranging from 37 to 44 and that homes should not be exposed to more than 10 hours of shadow flicker per year.

Cass County’s wind ordinance limits noise to 60 decibels and does not address shadow flicker.

Leslie Murray said infrasound, or low-frequency sound, caused by wind turbines that opponents have attributed to health issues should also be addressed in local regulations. She added nonparticipating landowners should be able to request all wind turbine sound measurements at the cost of the developer.

“Ignoring this information is dangerous for our citizens, it’s dangerous for our community and if there’s no clear scientific consensus about the safety, I think the county must err on the side of caution and that we need stricter regulations on sound limits and we need significant setbacks to prevent this type of problem in the future,” Murray said.

Tia Justice, a storm chaser, raised concerns over effects tornadoes would have on the turbines while Wayne Haselby questioned how turbines’ vibrations would affect natural gas underground.

Mark Babb was the meeting’s only attendee to express being in favor of the project, adding he’s explored getting a wind turbine on his property in the past.

Linda Franklin said commissioners should recuse themselves from being involved in the project if they or any of their relatives stand to benefit from it.

Sailors said after the meeting that he does not own land in the proposed project area but that he may have a distant cousin who does.

Cass County Commissioner Ralph Anderson said he does not own land in the proposed area either and that none of his relatives do to his knowledge.

Cass County Commissioner Jeff LeDonne said he too does not own any property where wind turbines are being considered, nor do any of his relatives.

Attendees repeated calls for a public meeting where officials and project stakeholders can educate the public on their points of view and share information on the projected financial impact.

Sailors said after the meeting that confidentiality has to be maintained while negotiations continue between RES and the county’s hired legal counsel. Once talks conclude, more information will be able to be shared, he added.

Those negotiations include addressing how roads will be kept up as RES transports the project’s heavy equipment, Sailors said.

Lila said in his phone interview that there will also be a plan with funds set aside to ensure the turbines can be safely decommissioned.

He added the project will employ 30 to 50 full-time positions.

“We will likely pay hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes that will benefit the local schools, the local communities,” Lila said. “We will improve infrastructure … We will pay millions and millions of dollars to landowners in lease agreements.”

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

Miami Co. plan commission votes to review county wind farm ordinance

Tipton County Indiana (east of Kokomo, IN).

(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, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

WINDSTORM: Proposed wind turbines spur debate

A wind turbine dwarfs a nearby home near Curtisville, southeast of Kokomo on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017. Staff photo by Kevin Burkett

A wind turbine dwarfs a nearby home near Curtisville, southeast of Kokomo on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017. Staff photo by Kevin Burkett

(The following article was originally published by the “Pharos~Tribune” of Logansport, Indiana on Thursday, December 14, 2017.)

Setbacks, firefighting, health of residents among issues stirred up

Mitchell Kirk Staff reporter

The wind is kicking up in a debate over a project that would dot northern Cass County with energy-producing towers.

Opponents say local rules that would govern the proposed wind turbines are weak. They claim the turbines create health issues. They wonder how the turbines will affect aerial application on farm fields and if local firefighters are equipped to handle a blaze atop one. They criticize what they call county officials’ lack of accessibility on the issue.

Renewable Energy Systems, or RES, an international company headquartered in England with a U.S. headquarters in Colorado, is pursuing as many as 150 wind turbines about 600 feet tall in Adams, Bethlehem, Boone and Harrison townships in Cass County. RES also wants to erect turbines in Fulton and Miami counties, although Fulton County Commissioners took a stance against the project last month when they voted to remove wind turbine rules from the county’s zoning ordinance.

Call for setback reform

Rules in Cass County require wind turbines to be a distance of 1.1 times their height from property lines, 1,000 feet from residences and 1,500 feet from incorporated limits. Cass County officials based the rules on White County’s.

But the White County-based Meadow Lake Wind Farm’s turbines stand half as tall as the ones being proposed for Cass County. Because RES’ towers would be taller, setbacks should be farther, critics of the Cass County wind project say.

That would require approval from the county plan commission and commissioners.

Jim Sailors, president of both bodies, said there are no plans to change the setbacks, maintaining the ones currently in effect are safe for 600-foot turbines.

Wind at West Central

The campus hosting West Central School Corp.’s about 775 K-12 students in Francesville has had a 321-foot wind turbine on it since 2012. It helps with the corporation’s energy costs and at one point was part of the curriculum offered there.

Don Street, superintendent of West Central School Corp., said the wind turbine stands about 400 yards, or 1,200 feet from the campus complex.

In the over five years the wind turbine has been on campus, Street said no students or faculty have attributed health problems to it.

Vibrations cannot be felt from the turbine, Street continued, adding occasionally the blades create a sound he described as a light whoosh. Some shadow flicker occurs depending on the location of the sun and which direction the wind turbine’s blades are facing, he also said.

Street said the turbine’s distance from the complex is far enough to quell concerns about ice being launched off blades and blades falling off.

“It’s been a positive experience for West Central,” Street said of the turbine.

North Newton School Corp., Tippecanoe Valley School Corp., Northwestern School Corp. in Howard County and Shenandoah School Corp. all have commercial wind turbines on their campuses as well.

Sharing airspace

Monticello-based Townsend Aviation provides aerial spraying, seeding and fertilizer application services. Brian Townsend, a pilot with the company, said a wind turbine in a farm field is an obstacle for a pilot, but one they can identify and avoid.

Pilots have to be just as aware of wind turbines in adjacent fields, he said. Aerial application planes fly below the height of turbine blades while distributing, he continued, but need to rise to a higher altitude to turn around for their next pass. It takes a half mile to turn around, Townsend went on to say, and at 150 mph it’s even more important to be aware of any tall objects in the vicinity.

How wind turbines are placed affects an airplane’s navigability too, Townsend said, adding a straight row of them is more manageable than a random cluster.

Townsend Aviation also uses helicopters for aerial application, which Townsend said are slower and more maneuverable than an airplane. He said he company often uses helicopters when applying near wind turbines.

High-altitude fire

Critics of the proposed wind project in Cass County have expressed concerns about how local fire departments would respond to a fire 600 feet in the air, should flames ever break out atop a wind turbine.

Royal Center Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ed Schroder and Harrison Township Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jim Musselman said neither of their departments are equipped to handle a blaze that high.

Ty Rowan, a firefighter with the Cass County Fire District, said he wasn’t sure if his department’s equipment could handle such a fire, but assumed wind turbine owners would provide equipment and training to do so.

A RES representative did not return a request for comment.

Scheduling conflicts

The Cass County Commissioners meet at 1 p.m. on the first Monday of each month and 9 a.m. on the third Monday of each month in the Commissioners Hearing Room on the second floor of the Cass County Government Building, 200 Court Park.

One of their monthly meetings was formerly at 6 p.m., but the commissioners changed it due to drawing public attendances of little to none.

Northern Cass County residents have expressed a desire for meetings to be scheduled outside typical work hours to allow more people to attend.

Sailors said there’s no plans to do so.

“We’re not going to change our meetings from day to night just because of one issue,” he said.

Fulton County hosted an evening meeting last month with presentations on the project from a financial adviser, attorney, RES representative, county planning official and a resident representing opponents of the project. Attendees were able to submit questions and make comments.

Sailors said Cass County “will never have” a meeting like that, adding those who attended the Fulton County meeting did not listen to information shared in favor of the project and only listened to information against it.

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

Wind farm a no-go, 5-5 tie vote enacts commissioners’ wishes

Tipton County Indiana (east of Kokomo, IN).

(The following was first published in The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.)

BY WESLEY DEHNE
Staff Writer, The Sentinel

A Fulton County Area Plan Commission tie vote Monday means county commissioners’ decision to prohibit commercial wind energy conversion systems in the unincorporated area of the county will go into effect.

The plan commission was split 5-5 on whether to uphold the action taken by county commissioners, who determined with a Dec. 4 resolution that commercial wind farms are not in the best interest of the health, safety and general welfare of the public.

According to Fulton County Attorney Greg Heller, the plan commission’s tie vote constitutes no action being taken.

“If no action is taken, then that would be a failure to act,” he informed the plan commission prior to its vote. He noted the county’s zoning ordinance, which regulates both commercial and noncommercial wind turbines, will now be amended and commercial wind energy conversion systems will not be allowed in the unincorporated area of the county on Jan. 18, 2018 – 45 days after county commissioners Bryan Lewis and Rick Ranstead signed the resolution.

Plan Commission President Eric Straeter commended the efforts of Lewis and Ranstead, saying, “They definitely did their due diligence on the issue.”

“They were open to the public, and they did their homework,” he said, adding they went beyond what’s expected of a county commissioner. “They made a decision that was unexpected by many of us, probably all of us on the board, if I had to guess.”

Ranstead, who is also a member of the plan commission, was joined in voting in favor of commissioners’ recommendation by plan commission members Kathy Hobbs, Duane Border, Bob Cannedy and Straeter. Board members Mark Kepler, Don Towne, Jim Widman, Deborah Barts and Crystal Weida voted no.

During the public comment portion at the end of the meeting, the plan commission was asked by Gretchen Coplen if anyone on the board had signed a contract with Renewable Energy Systems, or RES, which 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 have brought 133 wind turbines to the county at a near $600 million investment.

“I live down there, and I haven’t,” Widman responded, adding “But, I think that was my right that I should have been able to make that decision myself. I shouldn’t of had 10 percent of the population make the decision for me.”

Brad Lila, director of development for RES, spoke on behalf of his company saying, “… we oppose the resolution put forth by the county commission,” adding such action will result in “significant financial loss.”

Lynn Plummer-Studebaker, an active member of a grassroots campaign aimed at keeping commercial wind turbines out of the county, told the plan commission not enough research was done prior to amendments to the ordinance being proposed.

“I have proof of that from emails that I’ve obtained,” she said, referencing a public records request she submitted to Fulton County Area Plan Director Casi Cowles. “I just think that upholding the ban is the right thing to do because there was no research done and these are not safe.”

Speaker: wind ripped county’s social fabric

Tipton County Indiana (east of Kokomo, IN).

(The following was first published in the online “Peru Tribune” of Peru, Indiana on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.)

By Brian Paul Kaufman – bkaufman@perutribune.com

Call it Wind Turbine Trouble 101 – presented by a school teacher who said he was “blindsided” about two years ago by the arrival of the towering industrial machinery in his rural Van Wert, Ohio hometown. 

Jeremy Kitson shared what he said he’s learned from the experience with about 200 people at the Miami County 4-H Community Building on Sunday.

The bottom line? Kitson put it this way: “The less you know, the more you’ll like wind.”

UK-based Renewable Energy Systems has planned a 383 wind turbine project for Fulton, Cass and Miami Counties – 75 of them in Miami County.

RES’ Director of development, Brad Lila, has said the project will, among other things, bring jobs, tax benefits and lucrative lease payments to landholders in all three counties. 

Kitson said he’s done his homework since an employee of another wind company – who was once a family friend – told him his two acre parcel didn’t matter in the scheme of things.  “Challenge accepted,” he said. 

He said elected officials have a tough job as they wrestle with the issue of whether to allow companies to build and encouraged those present not to become combative with them as they discuss it. 

But, he said, there are big problems. 

For one thing wind company officials “can’t say what’s a proper distance” is to locate the towers from homes and property lines. The Miami County wind ordinance, written in 2011, is 1,000 feet from a house and 175’ from a property line.

But at least one Michigan University Study said 2,500 feet is the minimum to mitigate something called “Shadow Flicker,” Kitson said. Created by the sun shining on the turbine blades as the rotate, shadow flicker is thought to cause symptoms and upset in some, especially autistic children.

Ohio laws limit shadow flicker to 30 hours a year, while Vermont allows just eight hours a year, he said.

Kitson said countries with more experience with industrial wind turbines, such as Denmark and Germany, have even bigger setbacks because of shadow flicker and noise problems. 

A 2016 Bavarian High Count ruling, for example, found that a 650 foot tall turbine needs to be at least 1.2 miles away from the nearest residential area before it can be approved, according to a Bavarian radio story.

In its current form, the Miami County ordinance does not address shadow flicker at all, Kitson said. 

The Miami County ordinance allows 50 dbs of noise from wind turbines. But at least one researcher, Dr. Robert Rand, has found that people have “vigorous objections” when noise levels like that are above 20 db, Kitson said.

Wind companies like to say that the noise is like what’s generated by a refrigerator, he said, “but most people don’t want a refrigerator in their bed when they try to sleep.”

Wind turbines also generate something called “infrasound” he said, or noise that’s below what we can hear. But even this has numerous negative effects, he said. Most recently, Kitson said, US diplomats in Cuba may have been exposed to infrasound.

According to the Associated Press, they suffered nausea, dizziness, hearing loss, vertigo and even concussions.

Holding up his cellphone, Kitson said he keeps 21 peer reviewed scientific studies on it that detail the harmful health effects of wind turbines. 

Also, safety recommendations by one wind turbine manufacturer say employees should stay at least 1,640 feet away when possible due to the potential accidents, fire and failure, he said, so “1,000 feet from a home in my eyes is not even remotely safe.” 

Enforcing proper zoning laws isn’t much to ask, either, he said. For example, you can’t grow pot on your property in Indiana and if you want to build a grain silo too close to your neighbor’s home or property, you’d have to go before some board to get a variance, he said. “This isn’t any different.”

If a wind company wants to be a good neighbor and steward of the land, they should also negotiate with non-participating land owners to make their property rights are protected, he said. Otherwise, Kitson said it’s “trespass zoning” that prevents the adjoining landowner from enjoying or building on their property.

Kitson said a study by Appraisal Group One in Wisconsin found that home and property values took an “11 to 60 percent hit by living in the footprint of an industrial wind project.” 

“If (they’re) so sure property values won’t fall, get a property value guarantee,” he said. “Prove it to me with your good faith and dollars.”

Among other topics, Kitson also said Miami County needs to make sure that the amount set aside for decommissioning any wind turbines is substantial and transferable. His county only got $5,000 each – when they can cost $500,000 to $700,000 each to take down. $5,000 would barely pay for the crane to show up on the job site, he said. 

At the conclusion of his talk, Kitson said he believes “the (social) fabric of Van Wert County has been destroyed” by the project there – with even brothers refusing to talk to one another over the matter. 

Kirby Lane, who also spoke at the meeting, said he’s bringing an ordinance that he’s written to the Miami County Plan/Building meeting on Wednesday night – and encouraged other concerned citizens to attend. 

An online petition at Miami County Property Rights Facebook page urges Miami County “to establish safe zoning of four times the height or 2,640 feet which ever is greater from a property line in regards to Industrial Wind Generation.”

During a question, answer and comment time after Kitson and Lane spoke, not one person voiced support for the turbines. 

Steve Schipper said he learned a lot at the meeting – and none of it was good. Schipper said he picked up bright yellow and red signs that say “No Wind Turbines” there and planned to plant them at prominent locations on his farms as soon as possible. 

Another resident who picked up a yard sign said he was concerned about what he perceived as the county’s failure to make citizens aware of the project. “Are we in Russia?” he said. 

One of the organizers, Becky Mahoney, said she was pleased by the turnout, especially since the meeting came together quickly and there was little time to get the word out. 

Lane also encouraged residents to attend tonight’s North Miami School Board meeting. Miami County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jim Tidd said he plans to share the benefits of the project there. 

Turbine decision on paper

(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.

Miami commissioner opposes wind ordinance


(Published originally in the Logansport, IN Pharos Tribune on Monday, December 4, 2017.)

Miami commissioner opposes wind ordinance
Alan Hunt supported it when passed in 2011

Carson Gerber CNHI News Indiana

PERU — Miami County Commissioner Alan Hunt Monday said he did support the county’s current wind farm ordinance, which sets the guidelines for a proposed wind project that could bring about 75 turbines to the northern part of the county.

Hunt made his view known during a regular meeting of the Miami County Board of Commissioners, in which a group of residents spoke out against the proposal saying the project would mar the rural landscape and impede landowners near the turbines from building on their property.

The project is being proposed by RES, an international renewable energy company with its U.S. headquarters based in Colorado. The parameters for the wind farm would roughly run from 900 North to the Fulton County line, which encompasses about 36,000 acres.

The company is also considering building turbines in Cass and Fulton counties as part of the project.

Miami County’s current wind farm ordinance was approved by the county plan commission in 2011. Hunt at the time served on that commission and voted in favor of the ordinance.

But on Monday, Hunt expressed opposition to the ordinance he helped pass six years ago.

“Today, I do not agree with it,” he said. “That’s my position.”

In an interview after the meeting, Hunt said he supported the ordinance when he served on the plan commission based on the information he was given at the time.

He said he changed his mind after learning RES was proposing to build 600-foot turbines, which is larger than any other wind farm proposal received by the county.

Hunt said his biggest issue with the ordinance is the 1,000-foot setback of turbines from residential dwellings. Under that rule, landowners could not build a home within 1,000 feet of a turbine, even if the tower wasn’t on their property.

Becky Mahoney, who lives near Macy and owns land in the project area, told commissioners that was one of her main concerns, too.

“No one should be forced to surrender their property to an industrial wind developer,” she said. “This, gentleman, is a land grab.”

Hunt said he believes the setback rule should require turbines to be constructed about a quarter-mile from property lines — not residential dwellings — to avoid what he called a building “dead zone.”

But some residents called for the entire ordinance to be scrapped and rewritten.

Greg Deeds, a former county commissioner who works as a land surveyor, said he supported wind farms when he served on the board, but believes the ordinance is now outdated.

“I was all on board. I really was,” Deeds told commissioners. “I thought, ‘Hey, this is going to be a lot of tax revenue for the county and get farmers some money.’ I thought it would be a pretty good thing.”

“But it’s been seven years, and a lot of knowledge has been gained in the time this ordinance was written,” he said. “I couldn’t find any ordinance in the state that’s looser than ours is. I ask that this be reviewed, thought about and reconsidered.”

County Attorney Pat Roberts Monday said any changes to the ordinance would first have to be approved by the plan commission and then receive final approval from commissioners. He told those opposing the wind project to draft a proposal and bring it to the plan commission.

“Present what you think is correct and sell your ideas to them,” Roberts said. “Then the commissioners will review what they pass … and go about it in a legal and lawful manner.”

The next plan commission meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 13. Wind farm opponents already have requested to speak at the meeting about changing the ordinance.

Commissioner Larry West told the crowd Monday he would not say whether he would vote for changes to the ordinance until he saw what those changes might be.

“I don’t know if there will be anything for us to even vote on, number one,” he said. “Number two, I don’t know what it might be. I’d have to see what they put in the ordinance.”

Commissioner Josh Francis has recused himself from any vote on the project, since he has contracted and is being paid by RES to develop lease agreements between property owners and the company.

Hunt said he plans to attend next week’s plan commission meeting. He said he would support the wind ordinance if the commission were to change the setback requirements and address other concerns raised by residents.

Hunt said his decision also would be influenced by the findings of a financial study approved by commissioners investigating the fiscal impact of the project.

Brad Lila, director of development for RES, said in a previous interview the company was aware of residents’ concerns over setbacks and would work with the county to address those concerns.

He said last month more than 50 square miles of land in northern Miami County have so far been secured through lease agreements with landowners to build turbines.