By Scott Smith
Tribune staff writer
SHARPSVILLE — Sharpsville residents can’t see the wind turbines out toward Windfall during the daytime, but come evening, they can see dozens of blinking red lights shining to the east.
Those same Sharpsville resident might soon have a clear view of turbines, because officials from the American subsidiary of German wind energy giant juwi Group want to install 94 turbines in northwestern Tipton County.
Whether or not that will happen, bringing turbines to the edge of Sharpsville, will largely depend on what happens Tuesday evening, when the Tipton County Council is expected to vote on tax abatements for the project.
Friday, Tipton County officials, in response to a crescendo of public interest in the vote, decided to move the meeting to Tri Central High School, starting at 7 p.m.
It has only been a little over a week since many Tipton County residents learned about the juwi project, particularly residents around Sharpsville, which will sit on the eastern edge of the project boundary.
Even after voting to clear a path for the final abatement vote on Dec. 3, some members of the council itself weren’t aware the project extended east across U.S. 31, to the edge of Sharpsville.
That’s why some residents will be at the meeting simply to protest the timing of the project, according to Sharpsville resident Kirsten Leonard, who helped organize a public information meeting this past week.
“I don’t know that I would characterize it as I’m against it — it’s an evolving situation, and I don’t know that we’re adequately protected. It’s more of a cautious approach,” Leonard said.
On the other side of the debate are landowners, mainly farmers, who have known and hoped for years that the project would move forward. They hold leases, allowing juwi to construct turbines on their property in return for payments.
The lease holders were largely caught off guard Dec. 3, when around 50 opponents of the project came to the county council meeting to protest the project.
It’s doubtful the meeting Tuesday will be as lopsided. Both proponents and opponents of the project are expected to be out in force.
Ted Salsbery, a Sharpsville-area farmer, said there are a host of reasons why the project will be good for more than just the 50 or so property owners in line for payments.
“The advantages outweigh any disadvantages,” Salsbery said. “The advantage is resources for the community, which can’t be replaced ... Once it’s done, everybody is going to be happier.”
At the heart of the debate is the same rural-versus-development conflict which Tipton County has rehashed for decades.
Those in favor of the project say it will preserve the rural character of the county, which has the highest percentage of arable land devoted to agriculture in the state.
“Tipton County is not a county you build housing subdivisions on, Tipton County is the most productive agricultural county there is,” Salsbery said.
John Cardwell, who owns farmland in Tipton County and has worked as a lobbyist for years at the Indiana Statehouse, said the additional farm income from the turbines helps small farmers engage in more conservation practices.
“It really helps in terms of maintaining smaller homesteads, and it means rental agreements with young farmers might not require as much cash rent. It’s more money to invest in actual farming,” Cardwell said.
Cardwell, who formerly lobbied for the Citizens Action Coalition non-profit advocacy group on behalf of Indiana’s utility ratepayers, acknowledged that wind energy requires subsidies to be successful, but said other forms of energy do as well.
“There’s no form of energy out there that is really subject to free-market conditions,” he said. “There are huge subsidies for the oil industry, and there are huge subsidies for coal. Wind energy is really the new kid on the block, and the other industries really aren’t very friendly to wind energy. They want to stay in power for as long as they can.”
This week, the Sharpsville Town Council meeting ended with a discussion of the pending Prairie Breeze wind farm project, despite the fact it wasn’t on the agenda.
Town council member Rob Rupe said the council didn’t take a stance on the project, but said he personally has reservations.
“We just thought the process should slow down. A lot of us hadn’t heard about it until two weeks ago,” Rupe said. “If there’s some kind of a deadline, this should have been on the agenda in September, so we could discuss it more thoroughly.”
For many, the issue comes down to aesthetics.
Area resident Lynn Celarek said she thinks the turbines are “awe-inspiring.”
“I know they aren’t nature or anything, but I don’t see anything ugly about them,” she said. “They do break up the monotony of corn and bean fields.”
Meanwhile, Sharpsville resident Emily West feels the exact opposite.
“We wonder how many people would choose to live here if it was in the middle of a wind farm. If these county residents wanted to live in an industrial zone, they would have moved next to a factory,” she said. “If they wanted red flashing lights shining in their windows every night, they would be living upstairs from a pizzeria.”
Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.