Setback requirements aim to deter any new wind development
Wind-farm developers have shown interest in building turbines in both Howard and Tipton counties in the last few years.
But wind farms won’t be coming to either county anytime soon, and that’s just the way county officials want it.
Both counties recently amended their wind ordinances to make it difficult, if not impossible, for wind-energy companies to pursue development within county lines after rural residents pushed back against the prospect of living near a turbine.
In Tipton County, that pushback was intense.
Residents packed into meetings held by the Tipton County Plan Commission to decry the development of more wind turbines after the Wildcat Wind Farm, which consists of 125 turbines, became operational in December 2012.
The contentious meetings sometimes lasted 7 hours as throngs of people argued for and against further wind development in the county.
When the dust settled, county commissioners approved a new wind ordinance that made it nearly impossible for any developer to build another wind farm.
The biggest hurdle created by the ordinance was a 2,640-foot turbine setback requirement from residences, and 1,500-foot setback from all property lines.
Tipton County Commissioner Joe VanBibber, who voted in favor of the new wind ordinance, said that requirement made it extremely difficult to build turbines anywhere in the county.
“With those kinds of setbacks in a county like we have, with the density population, it became very difficult,” he said.
That was proven true when juwi Wind in 2014 dropped plans to develop Prairie Breeze Wind Farm, a project that would have included 94 wind turbines in Prairie and Liberty townships with the capacity to produce approximately 150 megawatts.
Company officials said the new stipulations in the ordinance, especially the increased setback requirements, “effectively rendered the project impossible to build.”
“Withdrawing from a late-stage development project is always a difficult decision — especially when the development work has complied with all substantive and procedural regulations, and juwi has had the support of dedicated and civic-minded landowners and other community members who championed the merits of this project,” said Mike Martin, president of juwi Wind, in the statement issued in July 2014.
VanBibber said since the ordinance was approved, wind developers have stayed away from the county and officials have not received any new proposals from any wind companies.
Although counties have the option to outright ban the construction of wind farms, that’s not always the best option to keep developers away, he said.
A ban can lead to litigation from companies, which costs the county money. Increasing setbacks, however, can be a simpler way to deter development, VanBibber said, that likely won’t encourage a lawsuit.
Howard County has now taken the same approach to keeping wind farms at bay.
In 2015, county commissioners approved amendments to the county's wind ordinance that upped the setback requirements from 1,500 feet to 2,000 feet from the nearest occupied building on a property.
The ordinance also required any potential turbines to be quieter by 10 decibels than previously required.
Howard County Plan Commission Director Greg Sheline said one of the most substantial changes was switching wind turbines from a permitted-use structure to a special exception, which requires a public hearing for every turbine that would be built.
Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman said the more stringent requirements came directly from suggestions from rural residents, who saw a potential wind farm as an intrusion on their country lifestyle.
He said the amendments were approved to keep winds farms, as they are currently designed and constructed, out of the county.
But the ordinance wasn’t meant to permanently close off development. He said the ordinance still leaves the door open in case wind technology improves in the future and developers can construct turbines in line with the tougher stipulations.
“It was our hope that the amendments made to the ordinance would create a win-win scenario if wind-farm development ever happened in the county,” Wyman said.
Howard County has had a contentious relationship with wind turbines since e.ON Climate and Renewables’ plan to build a wind farm in the eastern part of the county became public in early 2013.
The proposal was to extend the existing Wildcat Wind Farm from Tipton County into Howard County, where construction was to begin in late 2013.
Residents began to publicly voice their concerns in April 2013 by forming the Howard County Residents for Safe Energy and attending the Howard County Commissioners meetings, where they asked the commissioners for a moratorium on wind farm permits.
The commissioners attempted to compromise in July with a slew of changes to the development program. Extended setbacks, lower decibel levels and light shields were all proposed, but residents continued to demand harsher restrictions.
After continued public backlash, the commissioners voted to terminate their agreement with e.ON during a special meeting.
It was at that meeting that the commissioners passed a resolution to the county plan commission asking for more restrictive standards.