(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.