PERU — A group of area residents Monday spoke out against a proposed wind farm project that could bring around 75 turbines to the northern part of Miami County.
The project is being proposed by RES, an international renewable energy company with its U.S. headquarters based in Colorado. The parameters for the wind farm would roughly run from 900 North to the Fulton County line, which encompasses about 36,000 acres.
Brad Lila, director of development for RES, said in a phone interview Monday the company is also considering building turbines in Cass and Fulton counties as part of the project.
He said more than 50-square miles of land in Miami County have so far been secured through lease agreements with land owners to build turbines, which would stand around 600-feet high.
But some Miami County residents are pushing back against the proposal, saying the project would mar the landscape and impede landowners near the turbines from building on their property. A group of around 10 people spoke out Monday during a regular meeting of the Miami County Board of Commissioners.
Becky Mahoney, who lives near Macy, said she opposed the part of the county’s wind farm ordinance that requires a 1,000-foot setback of turbines from residential dwellings. That means landowners could not build a home within 1,000 feet of a turbine even if the tower wasn’t on their property.
Mahoney said the ordinance was “stealing” property from those landowners.
Others said the setback from houses wasn’t far enough and wouldn’t ensure the safety of nearby residents.
Lila said RES was aware of residents’ concern over the setback.
“While traditionally a 1,000 feet for setback is standard, we will work with the county to address their concerns,” he said.
Kathleen Mahoney, Macy, said her biggest worry about the proposed wind farm is the affect it would have on her health. The 21-year-old said she has been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, which means her body can’t properly manage light and sound.
Noise and flashing lights can overwhelm her, she said, and cause panic attacks. Mahoney said she worried living around the noise and flashing lights created by wind turbines would do just that.
“When I think of being in a situation where I’m constantly surrounded by turbines and not being able to tune them out with ear plugs or headphones, what option do I have?” she said. “I will have to move. I know for a fact that I cannot live in that situation. It will be torture.”
Miami County Commissioner Josh Francis has been contracted by RES to help develop the lease agreements between property owners and the company. Since then, he has recused himself from any discussions or votes on the matter as a commissioner, since he is being paid by the company. On Monday, he sat in the audience during the wind-farm discussion.
“Anytime you have a full-time job and you serve in this capacity, there is potential for conflict,” he said. “The only way that conflict happens is if I take action as a commissioner, so I’ve excused myself from that so that there is no conflict there. I will not take action on behalf of the county.”
Francis said in a previous interview he decided to contract with the company because he believes the wind farm would be a boon for the county, and he can help facilitate its development better as a contractor than a commissioner.
RES’ Lila said the company is moving forward with the wind-farm project, but it still has "a considerable amount of work to do.” He said the company likely wouldn’t have a finalized project plan until next spring.
Once the details of the wind farm are nailed down, the Miami County Board of Planning and Zoning will review and vote on whether the project meets all the zoning and building requirements set by the county.
Lila said the company expects to pay out up to $60 million over the life of the project to landowners who have signed on to the project. Property owners near the project who don’t have a turbine on their land can also sign on to receive compensation.
Lila said a person who owns a home on 1 acre of land near a turbine would receive at least $1,000 a year. That number would increase with more acreage.
Commissioners Larry West and Alan Hunt voted in July to approve funding to pay for two consulting companies that will help officials assess the potential impact of the project.
The total cost to pay for the consulting companies would ring up to around $75,000, with all three counties potentially impacted by the wind farm paying a third of that cost.