AUBURN – When DeKalb County began writing a wind energy ordinance last summer, DeKalb County Zoning Administrator Clint Knauer was trying get ready for what some say is inevitable.
“I don’t want a large wind farm company to come to my desk and us not to be prepared,” he said.
DeKalb County joins a growing group of counties preparing for wind energy companies that could reshape northeast Indiana’s rural skyline. Companies already have expressed interest in DeKalb, LaGrange and Noble counties by conducting private tests and meeting with farmers.
Steuben, LaGrange and DeKalb counties have developed wind energy ordinances, specifying details such as setback, height and construction requirements.
In 2008, Indiana ranked as the fastest-growing state in the nation for wind energy, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Sites in Benton and White counties in Indiana hold more than 600 windmills and nearby Van Wert County, Ohio, is home to about 150 windmills.
Windmills can vary in size. Turbines in Benton County have 10-foot-deep foundations that measure 60 feet across. Construction required 50 trucks of concrete and 35 tons of rebar per unit. Each of the Benton County windmills generates 1.65 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 470 households.
Skeptics say the terrain of the four-county northeast Indiana area is not flat enough to house large wind farms. That hasn’t stopped companies from exploring the area.
A Spain-based company, EOSOL America, constructed a test tower to measure wind velocity on DeKalb C.R. 4 near Ashley in November 2010. EOSOL has held private meetings to explain the benefits of wind turbines to a few rural landowners in DeKalb County. Its lease agreements call for 25 acres of land per windmill. The company offered landowners $5,000 per year, plus 2.5 percent of profits earned by the energy alternative.
Noble County planning director Steve Kirkpatrick said a wind company has been meeting with about 35 farmers in the county’s Allen and Jefferson townships and securing options on their land. An option would give the company access to the land if they decide to build in the area.
“That doesn’t guarantee anything, but it’s the company saying, ‘If we decide to come, you can’t agree to let any other wind company build on this land, and we’ll give you this amount of money,’” Kirkpatrick said.
Bob Shanahan, LaGrange County planning director, said a Fort Wayne-based wind energy company has started to conduct wind studies in southwest LaGrange County.
“We are anticipating becoming part of the system once it starts up,” he said.
Shanahan said the wind turbines would be placed in rural areas, with Topeka a possible site.
“(Wind turbines) become somewhat of an attraction for people who don’t see that kind of thing every day,” he said.
Steuben and LaGrange counties have had wind energy ordinances since 2009 and 2010, respectively.
DeKalb County held two public meetings to gather input and discuss wind energy issues. Farmers and concerned community members offered arguments for and against wind energy.
A 30-day public comment period on DeKalb’s ordinance ends Monday. The proposal then goes to the DeKalb County Plan Commission for its meeting Dec. 21.
Kirkpatrick said Noble County has not developed a wind energy ordinance yet. If a company expresses interest in an area surrounded by numerous homes, the county would treat it as a special exception and hold a meeting with affected property owners and ask the wind company to lay out its plans.
“To me, that seems to be the best way to handle these things,” Kirkpatrick said. He cited a situation in DeKalb County, Ill., when a family built a home in the country, only to have a wind farm company build wind turbines throughout the area.
“They have to deal with shadow flicker and other problems associated with wind turbines. We want to avoid that in Noble County,” Kirkpatrick said.
Steuben’s ordinance creates a wind overlay zoning district, outlining places where large, commercial wind farms could be built. Only areas zoned environmental control, agricultural or industrial can become overlay districts, and any company wishing to construct a wind farm must petition for a special exception.
The Steuben ordinance also calls for petitioners to submit an economic development plan and an emergency response plan.
Experts say it’s no long a question of “if” wind energy will come to northeast Indiana, but “when.”
“They are no more of a hindrance than electrical towers,” Shanahan said. “Eventually they become a part of everyday life once people get used to them. They are going to be beneficial to the area and to the farmers because of the financial benefit they agree to. It’s pretty good for everybody.”
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