By Scott Smith
Tribune staff writer
TIPTON – The backers of the Prairie Breeze wind farm in Tipton County might have been surprised by the opponents lining up to speak at the Dec. 3 Tipton County Council meeting, but they’re not planning on a repeat at the council’s Dec. 18 meeting.
But the opponents are also gearing up, realizing that the meeting on the 18th could be their best chance of stopping the project.
At the meeting on the 3rd, more than 50 opponents were in attendance, and more than a dozen speakers came out against a proposal to cover most of Prairie Township and the area between Sharpsville and U.S. 31 with wind turbines.
This week, Northern Community Schools Superintendent Lee Williford decided to go on the offensive against the wind farm opponents, saying the project is a huge opportunity to increase funding to the school district.
“Over time, this project means the area’s assessed value will increase, and it will bring property taxes down for most of the taxpayers,” Williford said of the planned investment, estimates of which range between $100 million and $300 million.
Sharpsville resident Brian Key is helping to lead the resistance to the project, saying simply that he doesn’t want to live in the midst of the turbines. He’s started an online petition against the project (http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/petition-against-the-prairie-breeze-farm-in-tipton/), and is planning to protest at the meeting on the 18th.
“The farmers have always fought to preserve the land and the rich soil that’s there, and they haven’t allowed us to come in and build subdivisions,” Key said. “Then, when they get a chance to make a buck, they jump on it.”
It’s difficult to find people who stand to directly benefit from the project willing to speak on behalf of it.
Adler’s Seeds owner John Adler declined comment Monday when asked if turbines are set to go up on land he owns, but did say he thinks those in favor of the project will be better represented on the 18th.
“I think it might have been a little bit unexpected [that so many spoke in opposition on the 3rd]. Some people came unprepared for that,” Adler said. “At the next meeting, I think both sides will be very well-represented.”
Key said more people didn’t speak against the first wind farm to go up — the first phase of the Wildcat Wind Farm near Windfall — because of what he said was a short turnaround between the project being announced and approved.
Now that people have seen for themselves what the turbines look like, he said, they’re willing to speak against further expansion.
Williford, who doesn’t live near the targeted wind farm area, said he doesn’t think the 325-foot-tall turbines will affect property values. He cited wind farms in Benton County, where he said property values have remained stable.
Key, who sells real estate, said he thinks the turbines will be devastating to property values.
He points to the Chippendale subdivision, on the Howard County side of the Tipton/Howard county line, where more than 100 upscale homes will be sitting next to wind turbines.
Thursday, Howard County commissioners Paul Wyman and Tyler Moore both said they were unaware of any issues regarding the wind farm and Chippendale, but Key said he’s hand-carrying a petition to those homeowners.
Williford’s concern, however, is the future of a school district which is currently operating at its 2005 funding level. Loss of enrollment and the loss of assessed property to the new U.S. 31 project have combined to put the pinch on the schools.
“If we don’t do something to attract economic development on a large scale, it’s going to be very, very difficult for Tri-Central,” he said.
The Tipton County Council will meet at 7 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Tipton County Foundation building in Tipton to decide whether to grant tax abatements to the project.
The project’s developers, Boulder, Colo.-based juwi Wind Energy, have said they can’t build the project without a 10-year property tax abatement.
Last week, Tipton County Auditor Greg Townsend declined to say how much the abatement is worth to the developers, saying information from a report on the financial impact of the deal won’t be released until the meeting on the 18th. A representative from the developer also declined to say what the abatement is worth.
The developers also won’t build the project unless the federal government extends federal subsidies for wind energy. Those subsidies could expire next year unless Congress acts.
Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
IF YOU GO:
• What: Tipton County Council meeting, where members will decide whether to grant tax abatements for a new wind farm project.
• When: 7 p.m. Dec. 18.
• Where: Tipton County Foundation building, Tipton.