WINCHESTER – Randolph County farmer Eric Bentz looks forward to leasing some of his ground to a wind-energy company but is concerned about how others will react.
“It could be a decent source of stable revenue as long as people can can accept how they look,” Bentz said after a wind-energy meeting last week sponsored by Indiana Farm Bureau.
Mary Ferris, president of Randolph County Farm Bureau, agreed. “Some people will not like the big tall structures,” she said. “But we’ve got to do something to produce our own energy.”
The tower for a standard utility-scale wind turbine nowadays stands 262 feet tall, and the rotor blades extend the height of the structure to 389 feet, a crowd of more than 50 farmers was told Wednesday night by Ryan Brown, manager of the energy division of the Indiana Office of Energy and Defense.
By comparison, the carillon bell tower (Shafer Tower) at Ball State University stands 150 feet tall.
Within the next few years, dozens of wind turbines could be erected in Randolph County, which makes up one of the largest contiguous wind resource areas in Indiana, according to a new wind resources map published by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The largest contiguous wind resource areas in the state lie between Lafayette, Kokomo and Indianapolis and northwest of Lafayette.
Benton County, northwest of Lafayette, is where the $200-million Benton County Wind Farm, consisting of 87 utility-scale wind turbines, is under construction. Benton County is also home to the proposed Fowler Ridge Wind Farm.
Those attending last week’s meeting in Winchester said many Randolph County farmers already had signed contracts to lease their ground for wind turbines. They also said they wished Indiana Farm Bureau had conducted the meeting – at which free legal advice was offered – six months ago.
Indiana Michigan Power, Gamesa Corp. of Spain and Florida Power & Light are among the wind energy developers that have been approaching Randolph County farmers.
State officials say more than one wind farm could be built in Randolph County and neighboring Jay and Wayne counties.
“It’s a good idea,” Randolph County resident Mary Davis, a retiree, widow and farm owner, said after the meeting. She is one who already has signed a lease. “You can get more money leasing a third of an acre than you can farming 20 or 30 acres,” she said.
A standard utility-scale wind turbine takes up only a third to a half of an acre, said Brown, from the state energy office.
Farmers and other land owners should expect to receive a land lease payment of $3,500 to $6,000 a year for each turbine, Brown said.
“I like the idea. What’s more renewable than the wind?” asked Randolph County farmer Mark Miller said. “I get money. I like that.”
One farmer during the meeting asked Brown about the impact of wind turbines on birds.
“”There will definitely be some birds kills,” Brown said. “It’s a very serious concern.”
But according to a DOE wind energy guide that officials handed out during the meeting, only 10,000 to 40,000 bird collision mortalities are caused by wind turbines in the United States every year.
By comparison, each year in this country there are 60 million to 80 million birds killed by vehicles, up to 980 million killed by buildings and windows, 174 million killed by transmission lines and up to 50 million killed by communication towers.
At a distance of 750 feet to 1,000 feet, a wind farm sounds no louder than a kitchen refrigerator, according to DOE.
Very few Indiana counties have wind turbine ordinances to address issues including land use, noise, birds, aesthetics, safety and so forth, Brown said. The Randolph County Area Plan Commission plans to discuss wind turbines Nov. 20.
Indianapolis attorney Christopher (Kit) Earle, of Bose McKinney & Evans, advised farmers attending the meeting that land lease payments were just one issue they should address in a contract with energy companies.
Other issues include access roads to the wind turbine for construction, operation and maintenance; soil compaction; escalation of lease payments to take inflation into account during the 20- to 40-year life span of the wind farm; underground electrical cables and their impact on cultivation and drainage tiles; fixed payments versus royalties or percentage of revenues from a wind farm; negotiating as a group because of safety-in-numbers advantages; and decommissioning turbines when they are no longer useful.
“The footprint of these monster turbines is quite small, but they require access roads,” Earle said.
He asked farmers to imagine 20 or 40 years from now taking down one of the giant steel towers sitting on a concrete pad.
“It will cost a fortune,” he said. “You don’t want that responsibility.”
While wind farms have some drawbacks, they help the economy and the environment.
“It’s the same as bringing a factory in,” said Randolph County farmer Ottis Frank.
While a wind farm wouldn’t bring anywhere near the number of permanent jobs as a big factory, it would generate land lease payments as well as significant property tax revenue and hundreds of construction jobs, Brown said. But a wind farm the size of the Benton County Wind Farm will produce only six to 10 permanent jobs – in operation and maintenance.
Unlike coal-fired power plants, which generate most of Indiana’s electricity, a wind farm emits no air pollution, there is no coal to mine, transport and store, and no water is required for cooling purposes.
By Seth Slabaugh
12 November 2007
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