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Project spins ahead on county’s first wind farm

After months of debate and a few tweaks to a county zoning ordinance, plans for Tippecanoe County’s first wind farm were revealed Tuesday afternoon.

About 2,500 acres in the northwestern part of the county are being primed to house Performance Park – a 50-megawatt, 25-turbine wind farm slated to make its debut by the end of 2012.

Current plans show Performance Park sitting on an area bound by North County Line Road and County Road 750 North, U.S. 231 and County Road 300 West. The work is being done by the Carmel-based Performance Services.

According to John Knochel, president of the Tippecanoe County commissioners, the project will allow local schools and universities to purchase turbines for their economic and educational benefits.

“Wind energy holds great promise for our country, and Performance Services holds great promise for our county and for area public schools and universities,” he said. “Schools and universities stand to gain some great benefits when they invest in this wind energy park.

“This is a 21st century advancement, a step toward sustainability and indeed a day to remember.”

According to Performance Services, the farm includes 17 landowners. Landowners are paid on a per-turbine basis, and for the number of acres they own in the wind farm boundaries.

Performance Services officials and landowners declined to comment on how much each acre and each turbine is worth.

Construction is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2011. As many as 80 construction jobs were expected to be created by the project.

Tim Thoman, president of Performance Services, said the project is in the testing phase, and the site is still being assessed for environmental concerns. The tests may take six to nine months, he said.

The company is also working to establish a multi-year power purchase agreement so schools can generate income form the sale of wind power.

“So far a lot of preliminary tests are done, and they have all come back positive,” Thoman said. “Right now, we have very little doubt that this project will move forward.”

At one point, plans for the wind farm were in question.

In August, the Tippecanoe County commissioners approved new minimum setback requirements for wind turbines. The wind energy ordinance permits the structures to be placed no closer than 750 feet from the property line or 1,200 feet from the residences of those who have not agreed to allow the turbines on their properties.

The original setback requirements being considered would have put the turbines at least 1,000 feet away from the property line of non-participating landowners and 1,000 feet from the dwelling of a participating landowner.

There aren’t setback requirements for landowners who allow turbines to be built on their properties.

Thoman said Tuesday that while the new requirements did not reduce the planned size of Performance Park, it does limit the number of turbines that can be built on land already acquired.

For the 25 turbines included in the plans, school corporations will have to put their bids in on a first come, first serve basis.

Thoman said, so far, about 50 schools have been contacted to participate in the project, and more than 30 have shown interest. He said the list of interested schools is being kept confidential for now.

“If the demand is there and other land owners decide to get involved, it would be possible to expand Performance Park,” he said.

Ralph Shrader, superintendent of the Metropolitan School District of Warren County, said he looks forward to the possibility of working with Performance Services to generate revenue of the district.

“Our corporation has been pursuing a wind energy project for more than four years,” he said.

Performance Services officials say one turbine would cost $3.6 million to install, plus annual maintenance between $30,000 and $40,000. Schools would have several options to pay for construction, including bond issues. The schools then would reap the profits from the sales of energy produced.

Shrader said that once the wind farm is operational in December 2012, the district would begin to see a return on money in time for the 2013 school budget.

As a landowner, A.J. Booher said he is excited about wind energy finally coming to the county. Booher’s family has 952 acres in Performance Park.

“We were contacted about a year ago on this … we’re glad to finally see this project off and running,” he said. “We’re no stranger to wind turbines … we cannot rely on fossil fuels forever. I think taking this step forward is the best gift we can give to our three kids.”

Booher said that while he understands why some residents initially balked at the idea of living near turbines, he believes those feelings will pass once the wind farm is open.

“I’ll admit I was a bit standoffish when I first saw them … but I got used to it,” he said. “They’re like high power lines, or oil wells, or anything that was new at one time. People will get used to it.”