NEW CASTLE — A wind energy project once slated to span three area counties finds itself this week having issues with two of those very counties.
The Henry County Area Plan Commission, during its meeting Thursday night, effectively denied a year extension which had been requested by NextEra Energy Resources in regard to the West Fork Wind Project, along with denying a year extension for Apex Clean Energy concerning its Flat Rock Wind Project.
Thursday night’s votes by the Henry County APC leave both wind energy companies exploring their options moving forward, especially NextEra, considering the West Fork Wind Project is slated to encompass Fayette, Henry and Rush counties.
In addition to the developing situation in Henry County, NextEra is still in an ongoing legal battle with Rush County regarding that county’s portion of the West Fork project, after the Rush County Board of Zoning Appeals denied the company’s request for special exception permits for the construction of approximately 22 wind turbines in that county, along with increasing the setback distance required for those turbines.
Dale Cole, APC member, made the motion to not approve the company’s request for an extension, after voicing his view on the wind project.
“About two or three years ago, when this project first started, I was definitely in support of it,” he said. “I thought it was good for Henry County. At that time, we were at a very low point.”
Since then, however, things have changed a lot economically for Henry County, per Cole, and and with the issue being raised regarding setback distance for wind turbines in Henry County, he felt the extension should be rejected.
“I’ll make a motion that we reject,” Cole said, which was greeted with a loud round of applause from the decidedly anti-wind crowd in attendance.
Ed Yanos, Henry County commissioner and APC member, abstained from the vote due to conflict of interest, but did question whether NextEra and its attorney were made aware that the APC would move forward with a vote on the extension Thursday, considering their request to move it to the August APC meeting.
Yanos was informed that NextEra and Solada had been informed that the APC would proceed with the vote Thursday evening.
The ensuing vote ended in a 4-4 deadlock, which effectively denied the extension to NextEra due to the APC’s rule that at least 5 votes, or a quorum, are needed to give approval.
The 4-4 deadlock vote received a standing ovation from the audience.
Bryan Garner, manager of communications for NextEra Energy Resources, said the company is now evaluating its options in Henry County following Thursday’s vote.
“Our attorney requested this agenda item be discussed at the August meeting, due to a scheduling conflict,” he stated Friday. “The commission opted to discuss the permit extension request at its Thursday meeting and, with a 4-4 vote, did not grant the extension.
We are evaluating our options in Henry County,” he continued, “which represents a small part of the project.”
Garner added that the project, despite the situations in both Rush and Henry counties, is still progressing.
“The West Fork project is moving forward nicely. You have probably seen the Atwell survey trucks collecting information that will be used in the micrositing process – informing how we design the future wind farm,” he said. “This is a big step in the project moving forward. Landowners are excited about the good jobs, economic benefits and clean, renewable energy it will bring to the community.”
Though Garner didn’t want to speculate on the project’s future in Rush and Henry counties, he did say that the project will move forward, even without those counties, if that situation arises.
“Fayette County might be the one county who reaps the economic benefits of this,” he said, adding that NextEra will continue to be involved in the Fayette County community through charitable sponsorships and support of local clubs and organizations.
The West Fork Wind Project is anticipated, Garner concluded, to come online in 2018.
Meanwhile, another wind energy company, Apex Clean Energy, who – much like NextEra – has seen pushback in Rush County, also saw its request for an extension for the Flat Rock Wind Project flat out denied by the Henry County APC in a vote following the APC’s vote on NextEra.
That request for a one-year extension went down by a 5-3 vote of the APC.