RUSHVILLE — It took two meetings, along with lots of discussion, debate and thought, but Rush County Wednesday night finally rendered its decision on a second wind farm project eyeing the county.
That decision ended up being if there are to be wind farms in Rush County, it will be done the county’s way – if at all.
The Rush County Board of Zoning Appeals Wednesday night voted unanimously to deny NextEra Energy Resources special exception permits for construction of approximately 22 industrial wind turbines within the county, as part of NextEra’s proposed West Fork Wind Energy Center project.
Rush County’s decision came at the conclusion of the BZA’s December meeting, as part of a continuation of its Nov. 16 meeting, where the BZA tabled the matter of the special exception permit applications until further thought and research could be conducted on the subject.
NextEra had been seeking a special exception for the construction of the more than 20 wind turbines, with a height of roughly 500 feet and a setback distance, from non-participating property owners, of 1,500 feet.
Not only did were those special exception applications denied by the BZA, they added their own requirements for setback distance and turbine height for future special exception applications NextEra might submit.
The BZA announced that any wind turbines constructed by NextEra, in Rush County, must adhere to a 2,640-foot setback from non-participating landowners, in addition to be 200 feet or less in height.
The setback distance instituted by the BZA for NextEra is consistent with the setback distance instituted on Apex Clean Energy and the wind turbines in their proposed Flat Rock Wind project, which the BZA ruled on last year. That setback distance was established at 2,300 feet, a decision upheld by the Rush County courts when challenged by Apex Clean Energy and a situation which currently sits at the state’s Court of Appeals, which will hold oral arguments next month regarding Apex’s appeal.
As far as Wednesday night’s decision by the BZA regarding NextEra’s efforts, it was a disappointing result, according to Bryan Garner, communications manager for NextEra Energy Resources, in an email to the News-Examiner Thursday.
“We are disappointed Rush County BZA members elected to impose height and setback limits on the project that go well beyond what’s needed and could result in depriving citizens of the millions of dollars in financial benefits and clean energy the project would provide,” Garner wrote. “The setbacks we proposed for the project go above and beyond what turbine manufacturers recommend and are more than sufficient to provide for the health and welfare of residents.
“There’s no rationale for the half-mile setbacks BZA members imposed other than prohibiting wind development,” he continued. “Likewise, the 200 foot height restriction is prohibitive, as commissioners know modern wind turbines are nearly 500 feet tall (from ground to tip of highest blade).”
An opposition group to the multiple proposed wind farm projects in Rush County, Rush County Wind Awareness LLC., had a different view on the BZA’s decision Wednesday.
“This ruling will basically shut down NextEra’s project in Rush County,” the group’s website proclaimed late Wednesday.
Garner said NextEra is still examining the situation involving the project in Rush County, in light of the BZA’s decision, but as far as the impact of the decision on the Fayette and Henry County portions, there shouldn’t be much that is affected.
Both Fayette and Henry counties have approved special exception permits for the construction of wind turbines for the West Fork project, with Fayette County having a 1,400-foot setback distance for its wind turbines from non-participating property owners, and Henry County having a 1,500-foot setback for its portion.
“We are currently assessing what the BZA’s actions will mean for the West Fork Wind project in Rush County,” Garner wrote. “The West Fork Wind project is already permitted in Fayette and Henry counties and we fully intend to build a project those communities can be proud of, and one that they will benefit from for years to come.”
The roughly $250 million wind project has been slated to have more than 80 wind turbines spread throughout the three county area – 22 for Rush County, 9 for Henry County and the bulk of the project – 56 turbines – being in Posey and Fairview townships in Fayette County.
The project, according to its manager Zachary Melda and NextEra’s attorney, Mary Solada of Indianapolis, is still in search of a buyer for the electricity which would be produced by the wind farm, but recently stated to the Fayette County public this fall that the project is close to securing a buyer.