By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune enterprise editor
Stricter wind farm conditions set by the Tipton County Board of Zoning Appeals for the proposed Prairie Breeze Wind Farm appear to being having little effect on local officials when it comes to wind farms in Howard and Grant counties.
The Tipton County BZA approved a conditional use permit for juwi Wind which included a setback of 1,500 feet from non-participating land owner property lines, instead of the nearest structure and a property value guarantee.
In Howard County, wind farms are allowed in most areas with the only requirement being approval of location improvement permits for each wind turbine. The Howard County setback is approximately 1,000 feet from the nearest residential structure.
E.ON Climate & Renewables, developers of the Wildcat Wind Farm which is planning expansion into Howard and Grant counties as soon as this year, recently sent a letter to Grant County officials stating it is going to use a setback of 1,250 feet.
Andy Melka, development manager for the Wildcat Wind Farm, said the company uses a standard 1,250-foot setback from the center of the nearest residence to the nearest wind turbine. He said that standard would be used in Howard County. E.ON that setback in Tipton County.
John Roberts, a member of the Howard County Council, approached the county commissioners earlier this year about changing the setback requirement in the county to 1,500 feet.
“We should change our ordinance for sure,” Roberts said. “We need to give respect to the non-participating property owners who live in an area. Participating property owners are making money and may not live on the property.”
The Howard County Plan Commission denied Roberts request before he approached the commissioners.
“The window of opportunity is getting narrower,” he said.
Council President Richard Miller said he has observed what has been taking place in Tipton County.
“A discussion on the setbacks is acceptable,” he said. “Setbacks from the property line, rather than a residence might be problematic.”
He said if a person owns 40 or 80 acres with a house in the center of the property the setback could be approaching 4,100 feet.
“All of a sudden there is a huge setback,” Miller said. “That could make it impossible for the activity that is planned.”
Miller said he is sympathetic to non-participating property owners who don’t want a wind turbine in close proximity because it would be detrimental to their home.
Commissioner Paul Wyman said there has been a lot of discussion about wind farms and the county continues to gather information from proponents and opponents.
“We have looked at wind farms in rural areas,” he said. “It’s important to us in terms of a long-term wind solution.”
Concerning the proposed property value guarantee for landowners, there is little support for the concept in Howard County.
“There are no guarantees in life,” Roberts said of the guarantee. “Studies show there is a drop in values during construction, but it rebounds after two years.”
Wyman said he wants to see the final details of the proposal in Tipton County and see how it will work.
“It’s up to the property owners to prove it,” he said of a loss of value. “The findings are there is an impact during construction. We need to know what the actual impact will be.”
Wyman said as a Realtor he recently sold a house near the Wildcat Wind Farm in Windfall and the buyers had no problem with the presence of the wind turbines.
“There is not enough data,” he said. “Over time there will be more data. To say the property values will drop by 40 percent to 80 percent is absurd. To say there is no impact is taking it to the extreme in the other direction.”
Miller said Howard County is looking at wind farm develop in the mostly rural area of the county.
“I hope we’re approaching this cautiously,” he said. “I believe the county assessor does a good job of keeping up with the trends when it comes to property values. I think a comparison of property values can be well done.”
Steve Niblick with Grant County Area Planning said the county’s wind ordinance requires a setback of 1,000 feet and 1,320 feet from Interstate 69 and in the Mississinewa River floodplain.
Niblick said E.ON sent a letter to county officials indicating the 1,250 foot setback.
“E.ON has not applied for any permits,” he said. “We don’t require a conditional use permit or a special exception for a wind farm.”
Niblick said property values have come up in meetings of the Area Planning Commission.
“The Plan Commission or the county commissioners are not inclined to revisit the wind ordinance,” he said. “All those concerns have been expressed.”