The debate over a proposed wind farm project in Fayette County is far from over.
A group of roughly 35 residents from Fayette County came together this past Thursday night at the Posey Township residence of Cecil Bell to discuss the impact the proposed Whitewater Wind Farm project would have on the county, especially when it comes to setback distances for the wind turbines.
The Whitewater Wind Farm project, proposed by NextEra Energy Resources of Juno Beach, Fla., would see the installation of 43 wind turbines in Fayette County – specifically in Posey and Fairview townships – along with turbines in Henry and Rush counties as well. The project, with a proposed start date being in 2016, is estimated to bring approximately $20 million in property tax revenue to Fayette County over the next 30 years, and result in an investment by NextEra ranging from $120 to $141 million in the area.
Opposition to the proposed project, and a tax abatement proposed for NextEra, made itself known at several meetings of the Fayette County Council and Commissioners in November and December 2014.
While the Fayette County Council approved the tax abatement for NextEra and county commissioners approved the decommissioning, road use and economic development contracts at meetings last month – major steps in making the project come to fruition – the county’s Area Plan Commission still must approve land use agreements between the company and participating landowners who will lease their property to NextEra for the placement of wind turbines.
Those residents in Posey and Fairview townships not participating, however, are concerned about the setback distance the county requires for a wind turbine to be from a nonparticipating property owner, according to Craig Mosburg, a member of the Wind Project Concerned Citizens group.
The county APC’s current regulation only requires a 1,000-foot setback on wind turbines from a non-participating property owner’s residence, something the group is looking to increase.
“We feel if properly planned and regulated, a wind project can exist in our community and be largely supported by all the stake holders,” a statement from the group read. “For this win-win condition to exist, local officials must be able to answer questions from the community utilizing information that has been independently obtained and verified, and be prepared to address concerns such as unnecessarily small setbacks of wind turbines to ensure that each of the citizens are able to have the full enjoyment and use of property that they have so heavily invested in.”
While NextEra Energy Resources had a provision of a 1,400-foot setback designated for wind turbines in the proposed project, the Wind Project Concerned Citizens group is looking at the possibility of having the county increase amend its zoning regulation on setbacks to 2,640 feet.
Other Indiana counties, such as Tipton and Whitley counties, have previously amended their zoning ordinances to make setbacks on wind turbines, from non-participating residential dwellings, 2,640 feet.
The citizens group has also been in contact with an attorney out of Syracuse, Ind. – Stephen A. Snyder, who specializes in zoning, planning and land use – regarding its effort to have the county amend its setback ordinance, according to Mosburg.
The group also hopes to see county officials take their time and conduct their due diligence when it comes to a project of the scale of the Whitewater Wind Farm.
“Local government officials acknowledge a lack of expertise and a lack of equipment and training, if they were to independently verify information or to respond to emergencies associated with the project,” the statement read from the Wind Project Concerned Citizens. “Because of the lack of regulation at the state and federal level, we should develop resources locally to insure proper planning, implementation and regulation of new projects such as the one being proposed in our area
“(Citizens) feel that clean renewable energy that minimally impacts the environment and local residents can be positive for our communities and country,” the statement continues. “However, if local government is not prepared to deal with the many unknown issues associated with a wind project of this scale, caution and abundant due diligence should be exercised to prevent a fiasco like the one that happened recently, when the community rushed to embrace a commercial manufacturing enterprise that ultimately resulted in a negative impact on our community and the perception of a dysfunctional local government.”
The Fayette County APC has yet to meet with the group concerning the setbacks, or with NextEra Energy Resources to consider the land use agreements for approval.