Opponents of a proposed wind turbine project in Miami County brought their message to Denver on Thursday night, warning those packed into the community building of multiple problems if the project moves forward.
UK-based Renewable Energy Systems has announced plans to build 75 industrial wind turbines in Miami County as well as 150 in Cass County. The company has said the “wind farm” will bring jobs, tax revenue and lucrative lease payments to land owners, among other benefits.
A similar 133 wind turbine project by RES is Fulton County was derailed after County Commissioners there voted 2-0 to remove the county’s wind ordinance from its zoning laws.
In fact, two of three Fulton County Commissioners recently signed a pledge that says as long a they hold public office, they will not allow commercial wind turbines in the county, according to The Rochester News Sentinel.
The two hour plus evening in Denver featured a panel of concerned citizens, including Lynn Plummer-Studebaker, who helped lead Fulton County’s fight against wind turbines, former Miami County Commissioner Greg Deeds, as well as Larry Long and Joan Null, who both faced a similar battle in Whitley County - and won.
Null told attendees she was newly widowed when a wind company approached her about leasing her land for turbines – and the idea seemed attractive at the time. “I never had a career, I had always been at home taking care of my aging parents,” Null said. “In my county, they were offering $7,500 per turbine per year… it doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to figure out that $7,500 is a whole lot more money than leasing (my) land to a farmer.”
Her son-in-law, however, warned her not to get involved. So Null started researching the topic and meeting with other concerned Whitley County citizens. “The more we educated ourselves, we realized we didn’t want any part of this,” she said.
Not long after, county officials were ready to sign a new wind ordinance. But her group found out the meeting was going to take place and alerted other residents with flyers, she said. Between 200 and 300 people descended on the Plan Commission meeting. “They had no idea what hit them,” she said.
Null said her son stood up at the meeting and said to the Plan Commission members: ‘“I don’t know all of you but I would like to know if any of you have a contract with the wind company. And he specifically looked at the gentleman in the center, which was the Plan Commission president… because he was the only one he knew… and he said ‘Dave, do you have a contract with the wind developer?’ And Dave said, ‘Yeah I do, and it’s none of your business. It’s private.”’
“Oh my goodness,” Null Said.
The ordinance was thrown out because it was determined to be contaminated, she said. That started a two year battle to get a protective ordinance in place that costs thousands of dollars in legal representation, she said.
The new ordinance adopted by Whitley County has a half mile setback from a property line for wind turbines, and required cash upfront in an escrow account to decommission, tear down and haul away each turbine. “We don’t allow a surety bond, anything like that,” she said.
The ordinance also doesn’t allow any shadow flicker on any non-participating property, among other things she said.
Some studies show the strobe-like effect of shadow flicker from wind turbines can cause health problems such as epileptic seizures, stress and headaches, RES disputes those findings.
Perhaps the most important aspect in the Whitley County ordinance, she said, is something called a “multiplier.” This requires a half mile setback from a non-participating property line or six times the height of the turbines, whichever is greater. “Should a developer look at our county with an 800 foot turbine … (they’ll) say ‘oh shoot. 800 times six is 4,800 feet. There ain’t no way,” Null said.
Greg Deeds told those attending the Denver meeting that he was serving as a Miami County Commissioner in 2010 when a wind developer first came to Miami County. They told officials at the time that Miami County was a great spot, especially since the power grid is nearby, he said. They also said they’d give the farmers a lot of money and bring green energy to the area. “We want to be green,” Deeds said. “We want to help the environment…(we thought) this is a good thing for everybody all the way around.”
But the county didn’t have an ordinance for wind farms yet, Deeds said. So the wind developer actually provided the ordinance for the Plan Commission. “The Plan Commission was a group of good people … but they didn’t really understand wind,” he said.
“The County said this is a great (ordinance), the company said this is a great (ordinance),” Deeds said.
Among other things, Miami County’s ordinance requires a 1,000 foot set back from a dwelling for a turbine, allows 60 decibels of noise and has no shadow flicker provision.
“1,000 feet isn’t enough,” Deeds said. “Setbacks need to be from the property line, minimum.”
Miami County Property Rights, the group that organized the Denver meeting, is circulating a petition that requests a revision to the current ordinance to require a minimum setback of four times the height or 2,640 feet – whichever is greater – from a non-participant’s property line.
In an email obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Plummer-Studebaker from RES director of development Brad Lila to Fulton County Plan Director Casi Cowles, Lila said the size of the towers for the project could be between 3.6 and 4.2 megawatt. That would require wind turbines 600 to 820 tall, the Miami County group said.
Lila has said RES plans a 1,500 foot setback from dwellings – 500 feet more than the current ordinance.
Meanwhile, the Miami County Plan Commission has created a study group to review the ordinance. They’re expected to give their comments on March 14 at 7:30 p.m. in the GAR room.
Deeds said he tried to figure out how the current ordinance would affect his 60 acre farm. He said as it stands now, the towers only have to be blade length from his property line – about 200 feet. “I cannot build a house within a 1,000 feet of the tower. So you draw all the circles and start thinking of all your land, and out of my 60 acre farm, I now have six acres left that I can build my mother-in-law’s house or my kids’. That 60 acres I’ve worked for my whole lie. But, sorry kids, you have to find somewhere else to live because my county doesn’t want you because they made an ordinance that said you can’t built here.”
Larry Long addressed some of the more technical aspects of the potential project. “The thing that most people don’t realize is that the foundation even for a 400 foot turbine is about 15-18 feet of concrete and about 60 feet in diameter…when they say they will take the foundation doen to four feet below ground level, what does that tell you? You aren’t going to grow corn over top of it, you definitely aren’t going to grow alfalfa. Year from now… the wind mills will be gone because they won’t last more than 25 years… you’re going to see round patterns where nothing will grow.
Long said often wind farms are sold after they’re built. “Do you think the second owner is going to honor your ordinance? Or are they just going to tell, ‘Eh. We’re here, what are you going to do? You’re stuck with them.”
And then when have to be taken down, the county won’t be able to afford to do it, Long said. “You are looking at 100 wind turbines at $300,000 each,” he said.
Long said there have even been reports of stray voltage being generated by wind turbines that shocked cows and kept them from grazing near them. “They won’t go down there,” he said.
And if the wind companies were ever recognized as a utility, he said, they could use “eminent domain: to do right through your property, Long said.
Becky Mahoney told the meeting that it’s a Miami County issue – not just a north Miami County issue. As a result, the group is planning another panel discussion on Feb 13 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the UCE Building, 109 Academy in Amboy.
Mahoney said that a community meeting is also being held Feb 17 at 6 p.m. at the Cass County Fairgrounds. Kevon Martis, the founder of the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition, Inc. will be the speaker, she said.
Raheleh Folkerts, Director, Marketing and Communications, Americas, for RES, [said] there will be a meeting/dinner in Miami County soon that the media and others will be invited. “In the meantime you can always check out the project Facebook site where the information is available,” she wrote in an email.
Plummer-Studebaker said her fight didn’t start in Fulton County, but rather Tipton. She said she went to the Wildcat Wind Farm with her mom and step-dad went to see what it was really like. “We thought well how bad is this going to be?” she said. They stopped randomly at eight different houses and seven of them said they hated it, she said, and wished they didn’t live there. “And I think that’s really sad. Of course, they can’t sell their house… they have to put up with these wind turbines.”
Residents also said they didn’t feel like it was helping their local economy at all. They saw out of state license plates on the workers’ vehicles and may stayed in RV parks instead of local hotels, she said.
If the project comes to Miami County, families will move and “you will lose student.” A teacher herself, Plummer-Studebaker said revenue for schools that would likely be allocated from the project can only be used for transportation and capital expenditures, like buildings. “If you don’t have kids to haul on a new bus, you don’t need a new bus. If you don’t have kids, you don’t need to build an auditorium,” she said.
Several other citizens also spoke that night, but no one expressed support for the project.