By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune enterprise editor
TIPTON – Backed by a team of experts, juwi Wind gave local residents the opportunity to get answers to their concerns for the proposed Prairie Breeze Wind Farm.
Juwi Wind is proposing to construct a $300 million wind farm containing up to 94 turbines in Prairie and Liberty townships to the west of Sharpsville.
The Tipton County Board of Zoning Appeals is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 25 in the auditorium of Tipton High School to consider a conditional use permit for the wind farm, the last legal hurdle to construction.
In the past few weeks, several controversies surrounding the Prairie Breeze Wind Farm have surfaced, including conflict of interest issues and the decision by county officials to not release a financial study until Thursday.
“Anyone can manufacture a controversy,” Michael Rucker, CEO of juwi Wind, said Saturday. “We try to steer clear of the controversy. We don’t want the process to be tainted in any way.”
Rucker said the fact that E-on Climate & Renewables is already operating the Wildcat Wind Farm in eastern Tipton County should help with getting approval for Prairie Breeze.
“People have gone through the process,” he said. “They see the benefits to the community. In most places, the community is very welcoming to have us come back.”
The company conducted open houses Friday and Saturday at the Tipton County Foundation. They will also make a presentation to the Tipton Chamber of Commerce Tuesday and officials will take part in two radio call-in shows.
Whether they arrived by themselves or in pairs, residents came to the Foundation building to get answers to their questions from juwi representatives dealing with property values, noise levels, environmental issues and telecommunications.
Most residents stopped by the maps that showed noise levels when the turbines are operating at minimum and maximum speeds and the location of the 94 proposed turbines.
Rucker said normally the company has not faced opposition in communities where they have placed wind farms.
“We’re trying to educate the community,” he said. “The wind turbines represent a change.”
Rucker said each presentation is geared to the specific group it is meeting with, in an attempt to respond to their concerns.
He said the Chamber will be interested in business and tax issues while others are concerned about property values and health issues.
“We are trying to address all those issues through these two open houses,” Rucker said. “We go door-to-door in each community where there is a high level of opposition.”
The company has not made an attempt to meet directly with the opposition group, Tipton County Citizens for Responsible Development. He said the hope is the opponents would come to the open houses to get their concerns addressed.
“I’m optimistic,” Rucker said of receiving BZA approval. “There will be very long term benefits to the community.”
He said one important benefit to the property owners in Tipton County is lower property tax rates as a result of the company’s investment.
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