NEW CASTLE — With the debate over wind energy and wind farms still ongoing in Fayette, Rush and Henry counties, one area Economic Development Corporation has made the decision this week to no longer pursue future wind development.
The New Castle-Henry County Economic Development Corporation issued an open letter to Henry County officials Tuesday regarding wind energy in Henry County, which effectively states that the EDC would no longer pursue future wind development within the county.
The letter, signed off on by New Castle-Henry County EDC President and Chief Executive Officer Corey Murphy after being approved by the EDC’s executive board, talks of the ongoing debate regarding wind farms and wind energy in the area, and the negative effect it could have on the community.
“The initial decision to pursue wind energy was made in 2010 when Henry County adopted the current ordinance to govern the construction of Wind Energy Conversion Systems (WECS) or ‘wind farms,’” Murphy wrote. “Over the last six years, numerous newspaper articles, public notices, public meetings and public hearings have been held on the topic. Two wind farms (Apex Flat Rock and NextEra Whitewater) have received zoning approval and tax abatement.
“Wind farms represent a growth opportunity for Henry County. The main benefits are substantial new tax base, additional diversified revenue for local farm families, and road improvements,” Murphy continued. “Many members of our community believe the risk of wind farms outweigh the benefits. The main risks shared by community members are a visual change to the landscape, declining property values and unknown health effects.”
Murphy went on to write in the letter how Henry County is now currently involved in a WECS Ordinance Review process, focusing on the setback distance between dwellings and wind turbines, and that he has reviewed hundreds of pages of information along with joining a wind industry trade association to better understand the field of wind energy.
That, and listening to residents of the community, prompted Murphy’s decision for the EDC to no longer pursue future wind energy projects.
“Over the recent weeks, I have listened closely to the community and it is clear there is not consensus on the issue of wind farms in Henry County. The path to achieve compromise could be damaging to our county’s reputation in the business marketplace. A flickering ‘Open for Business’ sign is not helpful but rather detrimental to our reputation,” Murphy wrote.
“Despite the potential economic benefits of wind farms and previous approvals, it is not the role of the EDC to unnecessarily and single-handedly pursue development projects without significant community support.
“In spite of the risks of turning down wind farms, the EDC staff will no longer pursue new wind farm development in Henry County,” he concluded. “It is our hope that Flat Rock and Whitewater wind farms are built as previously approved. The community’s goodwill and continued support is critical for the long term mission of the EDC.”
Dan Parker, executive director of the Connersville/ Fayette County Economic Development Group, weighed in Wednesday on Murphy’s letter, which he also received late Tuesday.
“I support his letter and the thought process behind it,” Parker said, adding that such a thought process is not specific to just wind farms, but all economic development within a county and the pros and cons such development could have on that county.
Parker also said that, on Fayette County’s end, it is also not actively searching for additional wind energy developers for the county. “We’re not out pursuing additional developers,” he said. “This one was already ongoing when I came into the job.”
While Murphy did express his hope that both the Flat Rock and Whitewater wind farm projects continue to take place, it is unknown whether either project will fully come to fruition.
The Flat Rock project, for the moment, is embroiled in a court case currently at the Indiana Court of Appeals level, as its developers, Apex Clean Energy, are battling the Rush County Board of Zoning Appeals in court over its decision last year to enact a 2,300-foot setback distance for wind turbines, from residential dwellings, in their project. The BZA’s decision was upheld by the Rush County courts, leading to Apex’s appeal to the state’s Court of Appeals.
Rush County is also currently examining proposed amendments to its zoning code which would ban commercial wind energy conversion systems in Rush County. Those amendments have yet to be approved.
In Fayette County, meanwhile, the Whitewater Wind Farm and its developer, NextEra Energy Resources, is also tangled in an ongoing civil case brought against it, and the Fayette County Commissioners, by a group of Fayette County residents alleging the decommissioning agreement between the two parties does not adhere to the county’s zoning code, and is invalid.
That case is still ongoing in Fayette Circuit Court, with at last notice, NextEra Energy Resources still seeking a purchaser for the wind energy which would be created, should the Whitewater Wind Farm come to pass.