Setbacks, disclosure rules, voter approval part of failed state laws
The breeze has been taken out of the sails of two Indiana General Assembly bills aiming to regulate wind energy.
One of them, in its original form, would have set statewide setback rules for wind turbines while leaving turbine siting up to voters. Both set out to address conflict-of-interest issues concerning public servants benefiting from wind turbine projects. The bills were submitted during a legislative session that overlapped preparations for a contentious wind turbine project in Cass and Miami counties.
Indiana House Bill 1338, authored by Rep. Dave Ober, R-Albion, was originally filed with provisions that would have required commercial wind turbines to be at least a half-mile from airports, schools and hospitals along with at least 2,200 feet from residences. The rules wouldn't have applied to wind devices people erect on their own properties to meet or offset their electricity needs.
Cass County requires wind turbines to be at least 1,000 feet from residences and the length of a rotor blade from property lines. Renewable Energy Systems Americas out of Broomfield, Colorado has indicated turbines planned for northern Cass and Miami counties would be at least 1,500 feet from residences and at least a distance of 1.1 times their height from property lines.
Opponents of the proposed project say half-mile setbacks from property lines are necessary to preserve health, safety and property rights.
House Bill 1338, as it was first submitted, also would have required the siting of proposed wind turbines to be approved by voters through a local public question. The bill would have made it a criminal offense of conflict of interest for a public servant to not disclose a financial interest in a wind farm development as well.
Cass County Commissioners Ralph Anderson and Jeff LeDonne have said neither they nor their relatives stand to personally benefit from the proposed turbine project while Cass County Commissioner Jim Sailors said he does not own land in the proposed project area but that he might have a cousin who does. House Bill 1338 does not include cousins in its list of relatives that officials would have to disclose if participating in a wind energy project.
When the House Committee on Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications discussed the bill on Jan. 17, Ober, who also chairs the committee, amended the bill to remove everything but the provision concerning conflict of interest.
Ober said in an email that the reason for his amendment was because he does not support state-driven wind siting.
"These decisions must be made at the county level as no two counties are the same and some may be open and inviting to wind development while others are not," he wrote.
Indiana Rep. Heath VanNatter, R-Kokomo, who represents part of Cass County, said at that committee meeting that he intended to propose an amendment that would have required wind turbine setbacks to be measured to property lines. He added he wanted to prevent situations that would keep property owners from building on their own land because the desired location would be too close to a turbine on another property.
A lawsuit was filed in Cass Circuit Court earlier this month over that very issue.
VanNatter said he still wants local governments to calculate their own setbacks, but require that they be measured to property lines rather than structures.
The House Committee on Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications never voted on House Bill 1338, however, and it was not on the agenda for the committee's final meeting on House bills on Jan. 29.
Indiana House Bill 1225, authored by Rep. Tom Saunders, R-Lewisville, would have required county officials who have signed a lease, easement agreement or other contract with a wind energy developer to recuse themselves from matters involving wind turbines in their capacity as a government official. It also would have required county governments to notify property owners within 2 miles of proposed wind energy projects and for wind energy developers to reimburse those notification costs.
The bill was assigned to the House Committee on Local Government but was never discussed during any of the committee's three hearing dates in January, the Indiana General Assembly's website indicates.
Lora Redweik, a Bethlehem Township resident who opposes the turbines proposed for northern Cass County, praised House Bill 1225 for what she described as its specificity. She added she'd like to see the Legislature address wind turbine setbacks as well, going on to refer to a rule in Denmark outlined in a 2011 Minnesota Department of Commerce review that requires turbines to be a distance of at least four times their height from residences.
Zoning is another issue Redweik would like to see legislators raise, adding she doesn't understand how an industrial device like a wind turbine could be permitted on agriculturally zoned land.
Redweik also advocates for state rules that would ensure more protections for counties when it comes to decommissioning turbines.
Indiana Senate Bill 318, authored by Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Indianapolis, would require electricity suppliers to supply a certain percentage of its electricity from renewable energy resources like wind and solar. That percentage starts with at least 5 percent by the end of this year up to at least 25 percent by the end of 2028.
The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Utilities but it was not on the committee's Jan. 18 agenda nor was it on its Feb. 1 agenda as of Monday.