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January 29, 2013

Citizens group forming on wind turbines

Tipton Co. residents oppose current setback standards

TIPTON — For the Citizens for Responsible Development, it’s telling that the two wind farms already approved for Tipton County are going above and beyond the county’s setback standards.

The county requires wind turbines be set back 1,000 feet from a property. But both the Prairie Breeze and Wildcat wind farms will have 1,250 foot setbacks.

That still might not be enough for members of the group, who are planning to protest the Prairie Breeze project at the Feb. 25 meeting of the Tipton County Board of Zoning Appeals, 7 p.m. at the Tipton County Courthouse.

“1,250 feet is nothing when you can see one of the turbines from 10 miles away,” Prairie Township resident Emily West said Monday. “If it’s 1,250 feet from your home, it’s way too close.”

The BZA meeting is probably the last hurdle for the Prairie Breeze project, which is slated to bring 94 wind turbines to a 10-square mile area of northwestern Tipton County.

Members of the recently formed citizens group will meet at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the South Branch of the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library, 1755 E. Center Road. West said it will be a planning meeting for the upcoming BZA hearing.

To build the wind farm, developers juwi Wind Energy, Boulder, Colo., need a special exception permit from the appeals board.

It already has obtained a tax abatement on the project, which is expected to pay $3.5 million in property taxes over the 10-year duration of the abatement, the majority of which would go to the Tri-Central Community School system.

If approved, construction work is expected to start in 2013 and be completed in 2014. The company launched a website on Wednesday at www.prairiebreezewindfarm.com.

West said there’s a distinct impression among opponents of the Prairie Breeze project that they’re getting started late.

She said she only learned the project was moving ahead shortly before the Tipton County Council took a preliminary vote on the tax abatement in early December.

So now the group is concentrating on the county’s setback requirements, which appear to be less stringent than the industry standard.

Tipton County planning director Steve Edson said the first wind farm to win approval, E.ON Climate Renewables’ Wildcat Wind Farm, was voluntarily set up with a 1,250-foot setback. That’s 1,250 feet from the nearest corner of a structure, not 1,250 feet from a property line.

“That has become what I would call the ‘de facto’ setback, even though we only require 1,000 feet,” Edson said. “This has become kind of an evolving thing, and you’re seeing industry standards like 1,250 feet.”

The citizens group sent a statement to media Monday, saying they want wind farm development to preserve the quality of life in rural Tipton County, citing concerns ranging from light flicker to turbine noise and decreased property values.

They say independent research shows falling property values in proximity to wind farms, while wind farm proponents say the massive wind farm development in Benton County, constructed during the height of the recession, hasn’t caused any loss in property values.

Saying they intend to “lobby government officials and wind companies to protect the interests of those already living in the vicinity of wind turbines,” the group’s statement goes on to suggest officials begin to consider property value guarantee clauses and “non-participant boards to address problems with noise, flicker, satellite and antennae interference and other issues.”

Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com

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