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May 17, 2013

Windy debates

Each Indiana county has a different wind farm standard.

At least two central Indiana counties have established setbacks that are essentially prohibitive of wind farm developments. Counties between Indianapolis and Fort Wayne have debated whether to allow wind farms and how to regulate them. In Howard County, wind farm opponents are trying to reopen the discussion to increase setback requirements established in the county’s code.

Each county sets its own rules. Whitley County has a setback requirement of a half-mile, and Noble County has set the setback at three-fourths of a mile.

Howard County’s wind ordinance sets a minimum of 1,050 feet between a wind turbine and a building. That is similar to the setbacks in Tipton County for the Wildcat Wind Farm developed by E.ON Climate & Renewables. E.ON voluntarily uses a 1,250-foot setback.

Residents in Howard County have recently begun urging the commissioners to change the setback requirements for Phases 2 and 3 of the Wildcat Wind Farm to be built in eastern Howard County. Wind farm opponents are seeking a setback of 4,921 feet from non-participating property lines.

The Tipton County Board of Zoning Appeals approved the proposed Prairie Breeze Wind Farm planned by juwi Wind in the northwestern part of the county, but with the requirement of a 1,500-foot setback from property lines.

George Schrumpf, a Whitley County commissioner, said the half-mile (2,640 feet) setback was determined to protect both participating and non-participating property owners near a wind farm.

“It was more of a safety issue,” he said. “Ice from a turbine can be thrown between 1,300 and 1,500 feet. So, the 1,000-foot setback was not going to protect property owners.”

The blades of wind turbines are heated to prevent the build-up of ice, according to E.ON and juwi Wind officials.

Schrumpf said since the half-mile setback requirement took effect, there has been no interest from wind energy companies to develop there. He said before the requirement, county officials were approached by a couple of companies.

“There are a lot of residences in the county,” he said. “With the half-mile requirement, a company could place nine or 10 turbines in the entire county.”

Schrumpf said the commissioners anticipated the setback would end wind farm development in Whitley County.

“Safety of the residents was the final determining factor,” he said.

Joan Null, with Whitley County Concerned Citizens, said the county was ready to establish a 1,000- to 1,200-foot setback until opponents raised health concerns.

Opponents wanted a setback requirement of 6,600 feet from the nearest property line to a wind turbine.

Null said greater setback distances could prevent wind farm development but they would be dependent on the population of each county.

“If the safety setbacks that protect your citizens don’t allow for wind farm development,” she said, “then the wind farms don’t fit in the county.”

Nathan Miller, director of the Noble County Plan Commission, said the three-fourths mile (3,960 feet) setback required there will make it difficult to develop a wind farm.

Miller said under the county’s unified development ordinance a company can request a variance from the setback requirement.

“I tell the companies they should consider going before the Board of Zoning Appeals to request a variance,” he said. “One company has expressed an interest in the county.”

Amanda Studebaker, assistant administrator with the Wells County Plan Commission, said the county’s wind ordinance requires a setback 1.1 times the height of the blade to the nearest property line or public road.

She said the ordinance specifies a 1,000-foot setback from a residential dwelling. She said the company developing Wells County Wind has agreed to a 1,200-foot setback from a non-participating property owner’s residential dwelling.

Studebaker said the first two phases of the Wells County Wind farm were approved in March 2012. She said the company has a pending request to expand the project.

The company has not finalized an agreement in Wells County for road improvements and maintenance, economic development and decommissioning of the turbines in the future, she said. A requested tax abatement is being considered by the Wells County Council.

E.ON is proposing a $200 million project to the north and east of Muncie in Delaware County.

The Delaware County wind ordinance requires a 1,000-foot setback from a residence and 2,000 feet from a city, town or subdivision.

The director of the Delaware County Plan Commission has proposed a 1,320-foot setback.

For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Kokomo Tribune eEdition, or our print edition

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