November 5, 2007

Multiple wind farms possible locally

Several companies are expressing interest in developing wind farms in Randolph, Jay and Wayne counties.

“Land owners in those counties are being approached by wind development people,” said Tom Chalfant, president of the Randolph County Farm Bureau. “I’d guess 200 or 300 or more have been approached or would be affected by these projects.”

This week, Indiana Farm Bureau and the Indiana Agricultural Law Foundation are sponsoring a meeting for farmers who have been contacted about easements for wind energy development. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in Husted Hall at the Randolph County Fairgrounds.

Indiana Michigan Power (I&M), Florida Power and Light Co., Gamesa Corporation of Spain and Horizon Wind Energy, Houston, are among the energy companies that have contacted land owners, Chalfant said.

Because a wind farm will require the lease of thousands of acres of land, “it’s is going to take a lot of coordination to help us understand the best way to approach this as a county and as individual land owners,” Chalfant said.

Kit Earle, a utility attorney from Bose McKinney and Evans, Indianapolis, will discuss easements for wind energy during the meeting. Ryan Brown, manager of the energy division of the Indiana Office of Energy and Defense Development, also will speak.

Last winter, Brown was invited to speak about wind energy during the annual meeting of the Jay County Soil and Water Conservation District. About 250 farmers attended – 100 more than normal.

“There is a lot of interest,” Brown said in an interview. “It’s fair to say several groups are looking in that part of the state. It’s possible for two or three projects to happen in that area.”

So far, there are two wind farm projects in Indiana. Construction started in July on the Benton County Wind Farm. The second project, also in Benton County, is the Fowler Ridge Wind Farm.

“Those two are pretty far along,” Brown said. “One is under construction and the second one is to the permit stage. Everything else in the state is sort of in the prospecting stage, judging whether it’s feasible or not.”

Last month, I&M erected 200-foot meteorological test towers in Jay and Wayne counties, and the company plans to install a third one in Randolph County before the end of the year. Equipment on each tower will collect data on wind speeds and directions at various altitudes.

Data will be collected for about two years, said I&M’s Mike Brian.

“It’s going to take at least a couple of years to gather data before we decide if it’s a good location for a wind farm,” he said. “But we are encouraged. Just looking at the wind maps, it looks like it will be an ideal location.”

I&M is purchasing wind energy from the Fowler Ridge Wind Farm.

The Randolph County Area Plan Commission probably will discuss regulation of wind turbines at its Nov. 20 meeting. Randolph County officials have visited Benton County and other wind farm sites.

“We need to be thinking of ourselves as a wind state, not just a coal state,” said Dave Menzer, utility campaign organizer for Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana. “This is all positive for Indiana. The land owners and the state’s economy can really benefit. Given the future carbon regulations that are coming, ultimately wind will be cheaper than coal.”

But as wind farms are developed in Indiana, “we need to give consideration to local concerns like property values and birds and bats,” Menzer said. “We need to be sensitive to local concerns. We don’t want to steamroll people like we’ve done with hog farms, merchant power plants and ethanol plants.”

By Seth Slabaugh

The Star Press

5 November 2007

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