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Is wind farm coming to Cass County?

A developer has moved into the land-leasing phase of a potential wind farm in Cass and surrounding counties.

Chris Caffyn, a senior developer with Community Energy, says the Pennsylvania-based company has been researching the possibilities of a wind farm that would stretch from northern Cass County and southern Fulton County into Miami, Wabash and Kosciusko counties. A significant amount of acreage is already under land agreements, he said.

“We’ve started the process and there have been some land agreements signed by landowners, and we’re getting a very positive response,” Caffyn said.

In the last two months, the renewable energy developer has signed leases that would pay landowners rent for the right to have a wind turbine on their properties.

Caffyn wanted to be clear, though, that Community Energy is in the beginning stages of its efforts and that none of the process happens quickly. At this stage, the company does not know the scale of the project, where any of the turbines will go and whether it will even build a wind farm here.

“It really is exploratory at this point,” he said.

Since January 2010, a 200-foot meteorological tower on 600 North southeast of Lucerne has been recording wind speed and direction to determine the viability of a wind farm.

“What we found was that there is adequate wind,” Caffyn said. “It’s not great and it’s not poor, but we think it’s commercially viable wind.”

The possibilities have Commissioner Dave Arnold excited. He has welcomed Community Energy into the county and watched the company grow its operation here.

“It’s getting better and better,” Arnold said.

The company has gone from one representative contacting landowners to four. It has also signed leases for an undisclosed amount of land. Arnold pointed to a map on a wall in the commissioners’ office that showed a portion of the thousands of acres available from willing property owners.

Besides Cass County’s good wind resource, Caffyn said another reason they were attracted to this area was the eagerness of county officials and landowners. He credited Arnold, who was among the local leaders conducting outreach to companies in the wind industry.

At a time when many city and county governments are hurting for money, a wind farm could be an economic boon.

“A wind farm in Cass County would add significant tax revenue to the county while using very little of the county’s infrastructure,” Caffyn said. “As a major consumer of tax revenue, the local schools will be a large beneficiary of this new source of revenue.”

The rent paid to landowners would likely end up in the local economy. On a temporary basis, a wind farm would create a large number of construction jobs, which would supply customers to local restaurants, hotels and retail stores, Caffyn said. In the long term, there would be well-paying service and support jobs to keep wind turbines running.

Caffyn called the turbine workers “windsmiths.” They are people, he said, who need a background in electrical, mechanical and/or heavy equipment. They also could not be afraid of heights.

Caffyn pointed out the new wind farm jobs would produce a greater net gain in the local coffers than other types of development because of minimal traffic on the roads and students added to the school systems.

“They generate income for the county and landowners without adding a lot of kids or continuing truck traffic like you would with a factory,” Caffyn said.

Asked how soon Cass County could see its first wind turbine, Arnold said his common response is “not soon enough.”

“I am very positive we will have wind energy in the next four or five years,” Arnold said.

Caffyn had a similar response.

“Community Energy Wind is at the beginning of our project planning and research,” he said. “It’s a long process to build a successful wind farm from where we are now at the beginning phase. It is possible that we could start to build a project in the next few years.”