MIDDLETOWN — As wind farm developers seek to meet the U.S. Department of Energy's goal of 20 percent renewable energy production in Indiana by 2030, some residents in targeted areas are fighting back in inventive ways.
Two decades ago, Linda Jones moved from the bustling city life of Indianapolis to a small homestead just outside of Middletown in Henry County. But after three wind energy companies put in bids to operate in the county, Jones worries that her bucolic prairie view will be ruined by wind turbines.
"We had a display recently at a gathering, and they were showing the scale of what a two-story home looks like beside a 500-foot turbine. They are really imposing," she said.
The noise and flickering shadows that are caused by turning rotor blades also concerned Jones, she said, because her adult daughter suffers from migraines caused by flashing lights. She worried that if a turbine went up near her house, her daughter wouldn't be able to visit as often.
So Jones began going to the Middletown's meetings on wind farm proposals, and learned that although the "offset" — the distance required between homes and turbines — was 1,500 feet for land zoned residential, it was only 550 feet for land zoned as agriculture.
Instead of fighting to change zoning and setback laws, as people in some other counties across Indiana have done because there is no statewide setback law, Jones decided to petition to have her property, surrounded by farmland, rezoned as residential. She was awarded the request in a 6-to-1 vote by the Middletown council.
"I am not opposed to wind farms. There are surely many places that aren't very heavily populated and ... those places should be sought out first," she said. "For me, because we just don't know the adverse health effects or the effect on property values, there needs to be more research."
Henry County's wind farm controversy is far from unique in Indiana.
A group of residents in Rush County, the location of a proposed 65-turbine farm by APEX Clean Energy, are fighting to change a zoning agreement that has allowed wind farms in the area. APEX officials said in a statement that such a restriction would essentially kill wind energy development in Rush County.
In Eastern Indiana, Fayette County residents have sued county commissioners and another developer to stop a wind farm. And Marshall County has set a moratorium on wind farm development.
Wind farms do have their supporters, many landowners among them. Wind farm developers pay an average of $5,000 a year to lease land for each turbine. In turn, that money leads to an increase in property-tax revenue and helps to raise money for struggling rural schools.
More than 1,000 turbines tower over the Hoosier landscape, mostly in the northern half of Indiana, generating 1,893 megawatts of power — roughly the energy produced by three average-size coal plants. Indiana is the 12th highest wind energy generation state.
Despite these economic boons, David Rieman, a project manager at Calpine Corp., one of the three companies hoping to build a wind farm in Henry County, said there is sometimes a strong NIMBY (not in my back yard) sentiment opposing wind energy development. Essentially, most people like the idea of more economic, green energy — they just don't want the turbines near enough to disturb their view of the countryside.
But many property owners Rieman has spoken to in Henry County are excited to set up turbines.
"We have a number of families that have signed leases," Rieman said. "And they have been positive."
Jon Thompson, owner and operator of Prairie View Farms in White and Benton counties, couldn't be happier with the 30 turbines spread out across his farm.
"I have turbines within two-fifths of a mile of my house on two sides," he said. "If there's no traffic on the interstate, and if the crickets aren't chirping, I can barely hear the sound of the turbines."
To Thompson, it's all a matter of perception.
"It's just like a hog farm," he said. "The hog farmer smells manure and doesn't think anything of it. But the guy that lives across from him thinks it just smells like (excrement)."
Although people might complain about the smell of a hog farm, Thompson said, they often understand that it's the landowner's right to try to make money on their land. Some of those same people, he noted, would fight a wind farm.
"So you are talking about something that changes the landscape, but it's no different than anything else that changes the landscape," he said. "And it means money for schools, taxes."
Wind farm setbacks
Indiana has no statewide zoning restrictions on wind farms. Each county can set its own ordinances. Here is a list of some of the most strict and most lenient setback requirements.
Grant County: Moratorium is in effect; no wind farms may be built or approved in the county.
Whitley County: Setback must be 260 feet or 6.5 times the turbines' height from a non-participant's property line.
Henry County: Setbacks are 500 feet from residence zoned agriculture and 1,500 from residence zone R1.
Wells County: Setback is 1,800 feet from non-participatory property line.