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Property owner's rights key in wind farm debate

Citizens of Whitley County:

I like to believe that I have maintained an objective, knowledgeable and fair outlook on the proposed “wind farm project” that has consumed my time, e-mail and telephone. To that end I want to take a moment to share with you my viewpoints (as a member of the Plan Commission and a County Council person) in regards to the pending project and wind energy ordinance that will regulate the turbines placement upon approval of the County Commissioners. 

The most important thing that people need to remember is that the wind energy ordinance that is currently being drafted includes the entire county – NOT just three townships (Washington, Cleveland and Jefferson).  This means as a Plan Commission member I include in my thought process ALL of Whitley County, not just the participants (those individuals who have signed a lease agreement with Wind Capitol Group) or the non-participants (individuals who are currently in the potential proposed project area that have not signed a lease agreement).  Whitley County has a population of 33,392 (2010) and has an average population density of 98 people per square mile (2009). This is an important statement because our population density per square mile is significantly higher than other Counties that house nearby wind farms which are regularly cited in debates over the issue. The first being White County with an average of 46 people per square mile and Benton County with an average of 21 people per square mile.  The participants regularly site these Counties as examples because their wind projects are working well for these Counties for varying reasons.  Another difference between these counties and ours would be their location and existing economic development.  It can’t be argued that the monies that are funneled into these smaller counties are significant however Whitley County is not Benton or White County.

Participants state that we are missing a terrific opportunity and that we NEED this project to survive. Whitley County can survive without a wind farm. Primarily because our existing economic positioning:  Whitley County is made up of a business corridor that has developed over the years due to the foresight of past and current County Commissioners and Councilman as well the Economic Board of Directors and past and current Presidents.  Whitley County will continue to take a progressive approach to economic development, for instance creating and supporting one of the largest Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Districts in the State of Indiana.  We are also less than 20 miles from both Fort Wayne, the 2nd largest city in Indiana, and Warsaw, the orthopedics capital of the world. This is another substantial difference between Whitley County and White/Benton Counties that warrants our attention.

The information above matters because a significant objective by many throughout this process is to capture the monies that the wind farm will generate.  I know that the wind farm project would cause a financial gain to every taxpayer.  My concerns here include the fact that the wind energy projects are subsidized by the taxpayer (on a federal level) and that the Wind Capital’s representative told me directly that they would request a $10 Million dollar tax abatement from the County Council in order to be able to resell the energy generated at a competitive rate.  These statements have led me to believe that the wind industry relies too heavily on the taxpayer’s wallet and not enough on their own production profit.  There are arguments that wind energy is an expensive but viable energy however it is my opinion that a better renewable energy will be harnessed at a more economical and less intrusive means in the future.

At our last meeting the Plan Commission voted and a 1,500 set-back from a non-participants property line was approved by majority vote.  I have been told by several lease holders that the 1,500 foot setback “kills” the project.  In White County a wind farm developer used a 1,500 setback on their own even though it was not required within their wind energy ordinance.  My question is if Horizon Wind Energy can meet this regulation, then why can’t Wind Capital Group?

The 1,500 foot setback is important in order to reduce the impact to the non-participants. We, the government, should never set policy based on one project but must remember that the policy being set is also for any wind energy project anywhere in the County.  If a company came in and said that it couldn’t maintain a safe pollution level should we modify our regulations that allow for an unsafe level? No. The regulations the Plan Commission set are designed to maintain a safe environment for all taxpayers and it has nothing to do with whether you’re a farmer or engineer.  It is non-discriminatory and unbiased as it should be.

Finally the most important factor in my mind are property rights. What should people expect that live in rural areas?  I believe that an individual should have the right to do with their land what they choose as long as it doesn’t impede a neighboring land owner.  Setbacks protect non-participants but also allow the participants the ability to construct the turbines on their land.  It is unfortunate if they need more land in order to construct a viable project with the approved 1,500 foot setback but that is the guideline that the majority of the Plan Commission voted on. 

Paula Reimers
Whitley County Plan Commission
Whitley County Council

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