A group of Henry County residents and property owners concerned about the local development of “wind farms” have drafted an alternative to the existing wind energy conversion system (WECS) ordinance.
The group’s primary concerns are about the impact on quality of life, including the health and safety of local residents, property rights, future economic development and both the short- and long-term impact on county finances.
“The current WECS ordinance doesn’t protect the non-participating citizens of Henry County from any of the negative impacts to which the leaseholders have agreed,” Gary Rodgers stated. “The setbacks are insufficient to protect residents, with no protection for schools, hospitals, protected lands, airports (or) the cities and towns in the county. It strangles future growth. There is no protection for the county from future financial disaster associated with the loss of economic development, decommissioning and/or legal fees.”
According to Rodgers, key points in the group’s proposed measure include that no easements are to be granted on non-participating properties; increased setback distances from property lines, the greater of 2,640 feet or 6.5 times the turbine height; adding setbacks for cities and towns, schools, hospitals, protected lands, airports and more; limiting sound to a maximum of 33 decibals; adding escrow accounts; improving road use for the life of the project through decommissioning; providing response requirements for citizen complaints; adding non-compliance and remediation requirements; adding property value guarantees; changing the permit issuance process to public hearings; limiting turbine height to 400 feet and requiring that all transmission lines must be underground and protected.
“We read a lot of ordinances from other counties in Indiana and in other states, along with volumes of articles and studies pertaining to industrial wind turbines,” Rodgers said. “We also read the agreements currently in place in the county. We visited industrial wind turbine projects, spoke with local residents and the wind energy company maintenance teams. We attended the Responsible Wind educational forum. We read news reports from both the U.S. and foreign sources regarding the results of wind implementations. We reviewed how wind projects are financed, how leaseholders are compensated, how depreciation and tax abatements impact county revenues and how local and regional economic development is affected. Then, we made a list of as many issues as we could find which could impact the county and residents. Comparing that list to the controls included in our current ordinance gave us a list of topics which require modification.”
Rodgers said the resulting recommendations are based on current studies and the results of nearly 25 year histories with European, Canadian and Australian wind turbines. The setbacks recommended provide an absolute minimum of protection while making it possible for the industrial wind turbines to co-exist with residents in the county, he said.
The Courier-Times pointed out there is a lot of data regarding wind turbines and their impact on health, property taxes, etc. available online and asked how the group determined what data was valid and what data to use.
Rodgers said the relevance of much of the information can be determined by the age of the study, the source of funding for the study and the inclusion or exclusion of personal experiences of those included in the study area. The group also attempted to corroborate health and property value data with professionals in the field who have no personal investment either way, he said.
“Useful information came from researchers with no vested interest. Many studies also included conclusions and statements that more investigation is required. This means that we should err on the side of caution because, to some degree, we don’t know what we don’t know. And, there’s a huge difference in study data with varying heights of turbines, the number of turbines included in a study area and their proximity to people,” Rodgers stated.
Rosalind Richey, who served on the Henry County WECS Review Committee and is also part of the group behind the alternative ordinance being proposed, shared her thoughts.
“People call them wind farms. In fact, they are industrial power plants subsidized by our tax dollars, Richey said. “With our current ordinance, the wind companies have few restrictions with no repercussions for what they do. After construction is finished, there may be only a few jobs created in the county. Technology is changing rapidly, and these high cost, low-efficiency, intermittent electrical generators may be monstrous, obsolete structures populating our countryside in only a few years. ... We must provide an ordinance that is welcoming to new families and other new businesses. Our commissioners have publicly acknowledged that our current ordinance needs to be changed. We need the commissioners and/or the planning commission to step up to this task now. This revised ordinance gives them a responsible approach to begin that process.”
Vernon Cherrett said he spoke before the planning commission in May 2016 and at that time said Henry County’s 2009 WECS ordinance needed to be updated to offer county residents protection. The citizens of 10 counties have substantial protection, he said, noting that industrial wind turbines are banned or have a significant setback requirement in those counties.
“County residents deserve fair treatment, fair governance and protection from industrial exploitation. We offer our work hoping to accomplish the review originally requested, the review approved by the planning commission and commissioners, the review which has not happened. Additional wind projects are on the way. Two have already been grandfathered into the existing ordinance. Improvements to the ordinance need to happen soon, or it will be too late,” Cherrett said.
Susie Eichhorn said wind companies are very powerful and have an unlimited supply of money and personnel to tout the features of green energy.
“The dollars they promise to bring are very enticing to a financially-struggling county. Henry County is ripe for picking and desperate for new income to improve roads and satisfy so many needs,” Eichhorn said. “These structures are much larger than can be imagined. It is very difficult for people to truly visualize hundreds of them in the countryside. ... Wind turbine technology is already becoming outdated. What’s the hurry? Why can’t we learn from others before jumping into this industry?”
The purpose of zoning, government managing development, is to encourage economic growth and protect the investments in property rights and future economic development of all of the property owners, Rodgers added.
“The current ordinance was cobbled together from other older ordinances in counties with wind turbines and recommendations from the wind energy companies. With this, the government forces non-participating property owners to endure those same encroachments whether they want them or not, without compensation and without recourse,” he said.
The group’s proposed ordinance will be available to the public after it has been presented to the Henry County Commissioners or the Henry County Planning Commission, Rodgers said.