The Henry County Planning Commission denied two requests from Apex Clean Energy to build towers in the southern part of the county to gather wind data. The meteorological towers, commonly called met towers, would have been placed in Spiceland and Dudley Township.
“We are disappointed,” said Brenna Gunderson, Apex senior development manager for the Flat Rock Wind project.
Gunderson told the planning commission that met towers are very important factors in the process of constructing a wind farm. Without collecting data in the area, Apex cannot determine whether or not the sites would be able to support industrial wind turbines as part of the larger Flat Rock Wind farm.
When making the request for a commission approved use (CAU) for the tower that would be placed in Spiceland Township, Gunderson pointed out that the planning commission has previously granted CAUs for two existing met towers in Henry County.
Apex Met Tower Coordinator Nathan Lehman explained that the proposed towers are temporary structures that would be put up in about a day and a half and could be completely taken down in six or seven hours. The towers would be anchored by guide wires and do not need permanent concrete foundations, Lehman told the commission.
Many people who attended the meeting wore neon colored shirts emblazoned with anti-turbine slogans. Residents from all corners of the county asked the members of the board to consider that met towers are precursors to wind turbines. They repeated concerns that have been voiced several times at a variety of public meetings over the past few months.
Sharon Mullen presented numbers from the 2010 census to the commission that compared Henry County population density to Tipton County, home to many active wind turbines. According to the data, Henry County is home to more than threes times the number of people than Tipton County. Mullen also gave the commission members photos she had of broken turbines.
“Henry County is just too populated,” Mullen said. “When I look at these pictures, and I see broken blades and them so close to homes, I’m just praying that this met tower don’t go up or turbines come into our county.”
Christy Coffey, from Fall Creek Township, noted that the Henry County Commissioners have requested a committee be formed to review the current ordinances regarding wind turbines and meteorological towers.
“Why add new towers to something that you may possibly change soon?” Coffey asked.
Henry County resident Patsy Conyers suggested that Apex was trying to install the met towers under the current building code to avoid future regulations. Henry County Zoning Administrator Darrin Jacobs explained that the CAU requests were submitted following the May meeting of the planning commission, weeks before the county commissioners asked for a review of the ordinances.
Opponents of wind farms and turbines in Henry County spent an hour telling the planning commission why they should deny the Spiceland Township met tower. No one spoke in favor of the project.
Gunderson told the board that the locations selected for met towers will not necessarily be the sites for future turbines, due to height differences and development code restrictions. Lehman said the towers are short enough that they do not require lighting and they do not have “significant electric emissions” that could affect medical devices.
“Everything is very, very low power,” Lehman said.
When the commission heard the request for the proposed tower in Dudley Township, Jacobs asked for public comments that offered only new information regarding the project. Discussion lasted about 10 minutes.
Dale Amberson spoke in favor of the tower. Amberson claimed that he hasn’t heard any complaints in the five years that he has had a met tower on his land from NextEra, a separate energy company.
Ben Mills, who lives east of the proposed site, spoke against it. Mills suggested that local opinion had turned against wind farms over the past several years because people had learned more about potential negatives surrounding the machines.
The Henry County Planning Commission denied both CAU requests by a majority vote. Each vote received a round of applause and about a dozen protesters gave a standing ovation.
The commission was divided on whether or not “the proposed uses are consistent with the spirit, purpose and intent of these regulations, will not substantially and permanently injure the appropriate use of the neighboring property and will serve the public convenience and welfare.”
Regarding the Spiceland Township request, members Randy Jones, Joe Manis, Steve Rust and Olene Veach voted no. Dale Cole, Steve Dugger and Dan Roach voted yes. The vote was the same for the Dudley Township CAU request, except Cole voted no.
Planning commissioner Ed Yanos recused himself from each case pertaining to Apex Clean Energy, Inc. and abstained from all votes. Yanos signed a conflict of interest statement regarding the Flat Rock Wind project during an open public meeting of the county commissioners earlier this year.
Gunderson also requested a five year CAU on an existing met tower in Franklin Township. Jones said the request was actually for a variance of the current code. The planning commission voted to refer the request to the Board of Zoning Appeals.
The Courier-Times will continue coverage of Thursday’s planning commission meeting in upcoming issues.